A peek inside the TPP negotiations show that New Zealand is holding its line on some major issues, as you'd expect. But let's not pretend that these aren't incredibly complex negotiations in which something will have to give

Nicky Hager has a story in today's Herald revealing, thanks to Wikileaks, some of the divisions with the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations. It's a welcome glimpse of what we can be sure are torturous debates inside the TPP meetings, but at first glance the revelations appear to be entirely what you'd expect.

The report says Wikileaks has got hold of the agreement's chapter on intellectual property, which was always expected to be the most difficult topic on which to find agreement. It shows that New Zealand and the US are at odds on a number of the most contentious issues - of 250 clauses, New Zealand and the US agree on about 60, but disagree on around 190.

My first observation is that each country comes to these talks with their national self interest front of mind, so it's hardly surprising that a small, open but somewhat centralised country is at odds with the world's largest, but heavily subsidised. economy.

Many people I've spoken to about TPP fret about Pharmac and fear the TPP puts that largely successful model and its provision of cheap drugs to New Zealanders, at risk. But everyone I've ever spoken to with genuine knowledge of the talks has assured me that's not the case. There are two obvious reasons - no New Zealand government of any stripe wants to pay more for medicines and second, it would be political suicide to trade away an organisation that is so vital to life and death issues in this country. I'd be amazed if they weren't right.

The other thing I'd note is there is division within each country and huge complexity around the wrongs and rights of each issue.

One of the reasons we're at odds with the US - in incredibly simple terms - is that it wants greater patent protection for its big pharma companies, while we want patents to run out asap so we can afford the cheaper generics. But of course there are drug companies in New Zealand which would back the US position over ours, and for good reason.

On one hand we all want cheaper drugs, we want the poorest of the poor to be able to afford drugs that could save thousands of lives and we want access to those for our own sick friends and relatives asap. Instead, the big corporates make immense profits by selling patented products for the highest price profitable.

But before we boo the corporates, we have to accept that most of the big medical advances now come from those big corporate labs; without big profits there won't be big investments in R&D and the best researchers and there won't be new drugs invented in the first place.

Note this article from last month reporting that:

Anyone who follows the pharma business knows that industry giants have made giant cuts to their workforces over the past several years. Just how many jobs have been cut? About 143,500 among the world's top 11 drugmakers, FirstWord Pharma reports, citing Bloomberg data.

The loss of its patent on the cholesterol drug Liptor saw Pfizer last year lay off 600 sales staff alone, according to this Reuters report.

Consider copyright as well. You can look at the big Hollywood companies and argue that if you or I download the odd movie without paying it's no skin off their multi-billion dollar nose, right? In New Zealand the Fair Deal Coalition say parallel imports could be at risk, stricter copyright laws could mean libraries are unable to copy parts of books for you. On ther other hand, Paula Browning of Copyright Licensing New Zealand made an impassioned speech to authors in September about how copyright must be protected if we value our Luminaries, Hairy Maclarys and the like:

Copyright – your right to earn a living from your writing – is under attack... At an Asia Pacific copyright meeting in Bangkok a couple of weeks ago I joked that soon New Zealand children would be reading about Kangaroos instead of Kiwis. But it’s really not funny. As New Zealanders we’re used to a rich creative culture. We’re used to having access to our own stories in our own books and our own TV programmes; through our own music and our own movies. It’s something we’re inherently proud of as we were able to unequivocally demonstrate at the Frankfurt Book Fair last year.

All of this is at risk if we do not have effective copyright law. Without it, the business model that is the foundation of the creative economy will be worthless.

I lay those examples out simply to make the point that these are intensely complicated negotiations with good arguments on most sides. (And because I don't know what I think about a number of these incredibly tricky issues). But you can bet that each country's negotiators won't be focussed on the greater good for humanity behind these closed doors, but rather will be asking simply 'what is in our country's economic best interest?'.

In short, the answer for New Zealand is that a lowering of agricultural tarrifs around the region will be worth a truckload, so it's natural that we will be expected to compromise in other areas if we are to get what we want there. And each other country will need to do the same - it will be a painful process.

You can be sure that whatever deal is struck, there will be disappointed, even furious, groups and whole industries in each partnership country.

The complexity of squaring away the concerns of small countries and large, developing countries and developed, plus two of the world's biggest economies in American and Japan... well, as I said, painful.

So today's report isn't surprising, but at least it's refreshing to get some idea of where the countries are coming from and to see that, despite what some have feared, New Zealand is not rolling over. Not yet anyway.

Comments (7)

by stuart munro on November 14, 2013
stuart munro

Yep. But our negotiators are the same muffins and round bottom toys that gave away all our tarrif income for nada, zip, and sweet effay. It's probably a good thing that there's a Christmas deadline, this deal like the Great War, won't get anywhere by then. Unless we are sold out.

by Tim Watkin on November 14, 2013
Tim Watkin

I think you're right that it won't get done by Christmas. Much will depend on what takes up Obama's attention and when he tells his people to push. But the potential for Japan to kick off or someone else to walk out etc remains high, I'd have thought.

by Fentex on November 14, 2013

e have to accept that most of the big medical advances now come from those big corporate labs; 

No we don't as most comes from government funded or subsidised research. Corporations protected by patents will find it more rewarding to seek new patents on variations of ageing innovations than investing in genuine new research.

There is <a href='http://www.againstmonopoly.org/index.php?limit=&chunk=0&topic=Pharmaceutical%20Patents'>good reason</a> to believe patents do eaxactly what is to be expected of monopolies in any situation, even regarding medical research - which is stifling innovation by enabling rent taking.

by Fentex on November 14, 2013

D'oh, messed up a comment.

Anyway, to repeat something I once posted elsewhere on the subject of medical patents...

I think that patents simply aren’t needed as proven by the historical creation of pharmacy industries in their absence.

Ben Goldacre also makes many salient points about the corruption and dangers in medicine caused by the pharmacy industries pursuit of these monopolies.

by Draco T Bastard on November 14, 2013
Draco T Bastard

But before we boo the corporates, we have to accept that most of the big medical advances now come from those big corporate labs; 

Funded by government:

The 1983 Orphan Drug Act (ODA) made it possible for small, dedicated biotech firms to carve a sliver from the drug market. The act includes certain tax incentives, clinical as well as R&D subsidies, fast-track drug aproval, along with strong intelectual and marketing rights for products developed for treating rare conditions.

A rare disease for the purposes of that act is one that affects less than 200,000 - it's the US. Two points to note here:

  1. It would be possible for NZ to do the same
  2. The US government doesn't get anything close to it's investment back in taxes

That's all from The Entrepreneurial State by Marriana Mazzucato.

 Without it, the business model that is the foundation of the creative economy will be worthless.

And interesting conciept. The creative capabilities existed before copyright and were quite successful. The problem seems to be that we've come to believe that the modern business model is the only model of life which is untrue.

In short, the answer for New Zealand is that a lowering of agricultural tarrifs around the region will be worth a truckload, 

No it won't. NZ is already passed its limit to farm. We actually have to cut back on the amount of farmland we have simply so that we can rescue our ecology.

What was successful in the 20th century will not be successful in the future due to sustainability issues.

by Draco T Bastard on November 15, 2013
Draco T Bastard
by Judy on November 17, 2013

It seems to me that if America wasn't in the lineup we wouldn't be having quite so many issues or sense of danger around this massive agreement over just about everything BUT (agricultural) trade.


Question: I still want to know if America was invited to join the P4 or whether it pushed in?  Also, how many parts of the agreement were initiated by America?

Post new comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.