The people speak out

Last Thursday, over 2000 people set up blockades around Auckland Central to protest the signing of the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, shutting down traffic in the area. Later that day, 15,000 people marched in the streets and joined the blockade in front of the Grand Hotel, where the deal was being signed. One of the largest protests in New Zealand in years, it set the stage for a larger conversation about what the trade deal would mean for ordinary New Zealanders.

Motorway blockade (2)

Protesters block the motorway in Auckland

The TPPA dwarfs all other trade deals in history in its magnitude – 12 countries around the Pacific Rim, comprising 37% of the world’s Gross Domestic Product, are expected to ratify the agreement. Of particular concern is the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) process, which would allow large multinational corporations to sue governments for impinging on their profits. This means that, for example, an oil company could sue the New Zealand government for not allowing them to extract offshore oil.

It’s already happening

In November, the climate justice movement made headlines after President Obama agreed to reject the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have stretched from the tar sands in Alberta, Canada, to oil refineries in the Gulf of Mexico. This success was brought about by a 5-year campaign by First Nations peoples, ranchers, and locals who fought against the pipeline every step of the way.

Unfortunately, the corporation developing the pipeline is now suing the USA for $15 billion of potential profit loss for the rejection of the final stage of the pipeline. This lawsuit is being made under another trade deal, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which also contains an ISDS process in the agreement.

More examples of ISDS cases:

  • Germany: Sued by Swedish energy corporation Vatenfall under the Energy Charter Treaty for environmental regulations regarding its coal-fired plant. The regulations in question were relinquished; the coal plant is now in operation.
  • Ecuador: Sued by American company Occidental Petroleum Corporation under the US-Ecuador Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) for removing access to oil reserves due to a law breach. The corporation was awarded $2.3 billion.
  • Mexico: Sued by American company Metalclad under NAFTA for denying permission to expand a toxic waste site. The corporation was awarded $16.2 million.
  • Canada: Sued by US-based Lone Pine Resources under NAFTA because of a fracking moratorium. Case pending; Lone Pine is seeking $241 million.

The list goes on.

It is important to remember that the other trade agreements mentioned either contained fewer than 12 countries, or only pertained to one specific sector. With the TPPA, corporations from eleven different countries can sue the New Zealand government for anything from environmental, to health, to labour regulations.

The potential impact on climate justice is astronomical. Any overseas corporation would be able to sue New Zealand for creating or strengthening laws that regulate greenhouse gas emissions or prevent oil exploration or extraction. Not only could they take billions of dollars from taxpayers, but they could directly impact and roll back regulations.

So what can we do?

NoTPPA - 350 East Asia - Philippines

TPPA protest in the Philippines


Thursday’s protests were just some examples of people’s massive opposition to the TPPA around the world. In fact, in the parent country, the USA, a majority of people oppose the trade deal and Obama is having great difficulty getting support from Congress. As for New Zealand, it is absolutely clear that the Government’s decision to sign the agreement was undemocratic and the people are angry. Protest does make a difference, and we proved that we could shut down the most active part of our largest city last week to make an important statement.

The TPPA is in no way a done deal. It still needs to be ratified by all 12 countries within the next two years. If this doesn’t happen, a combination of countries making up at least 85% of the GDP of the 12 countries must ratify it. This means that if, say, two countries whose combined GDP is more than 15% of the total refuse to ratify the TPPA, it does not go ahead.

The New Zealand government still needs to ratify the TPPA, which involves legislation changes. This is a relatively slow process, and we can fight them every step of the way. The climate justice movement, along with tangata whenua, labour and other groups and movements in New Zealand, pose a real threat to this corporate trade deal. Let’s continue to get in their way!