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CTU reinforces stance against TPP, New Zealand

CTU reinforces stance against TPP

By Vernon Small and Tracy Watkins

2 November 2013

Council of Trade Unions boss Helen Kelly has upped the ante ahead of a crucial Labour Party debate tomorrow on the controversial trans-Pacific Partnership deal by reiterating union opposition.

Opinion within the Labour caucus on the TPP is split with its proponents including Phil Goff and Shane Jones likely to be outnumbered during a debate at the party’s annual conference tomorrow.

But the party may be edging towards a compromise proposal sponsored by Labour’s union affiliates.

Kelly told several hundred party delegates at Labour’s annual conference today the CTU had hardened its stance to unequivocally oppose the TPP.

"It is likely to force up medicine prices give trans-national corporations a much greater influence over our governments’ decisions by including a right for these companies to sue our government outside our national court system and can be used to stop the implementation of policies that Governments have been elected to implement," Kelly said.

"It for example will get in the way of using government procurement for helping local industry spreading the Living Wage and raising health and safety standards, and much more. In short we oppose it because it is a model that goes in a directly opposite direction from what I have been describing as what New Zealand needs."

The TPP would create a 12 nation Asia Pacific free trade zone including New Zealand and the United States.

Its proponents say the deal would be worth billions of dollars in extra export earnings but opponents fear a loss of sovereignty, in particular over the fate of the state medicine agency Pharmac and the Government’s ability to legislate an environment and health issues, such as the sale of tobacco."

Goff leads the free trade advocates in the party and was instrumental in securing free trade deals as minister in the Clark Government, including the FTA with China.

He told Fairfax Media he was prepared to back an affiliated union-sponsored amendment. It would see Labour withhold support for the TPP because the Government was not being transparent enough and was taking unacceptable risks by allowing companies to sue the Government over the role of state medicines agency Pharmac.

The amendment would see Labour withhold support until full details of the TPP were made available and there was clear evidence it was in the best interests of New Zealand.

"I absolutely agree with that last statement. If it wasn’t in the interests of New Zealand I wouldn’t be fighting for it," Goff said.

He had received answers to 60 questions from Trade Minister Tim Groser that gave him the information he wanted, including that the Government would not back off the fundamentals of Pharmac.

Groser made it clear the Government would be able to regulate in the public good over issues around health and the environment. Goff had been given specific assurances about gambling, alcohol, and tobacco.

He said under the TPP the Government would also have the right to say no to foreign oil companies if their environmental protections were not good enough.

He questioned why the Government had not been more open with the public, given Groser had been prepared to answer his parliamentary questions and put the Government’s position in writing.

Asked if he the union-sponsored wording would bring the two sides together, Goff said:

"I’m happy with it. If it’s coming from the affiliates and I’m supposedly coming from the opposite viewpoint and I say ’no, we can live with that’ that’s good. I don’t see there’s a problem in the debate."