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Auckland, Berkeley put Trans-Pacific Partnership on municipal agenda

Auckland Town Hall, New Zealand

Auckland, New Zealand and Berkeley, California have passed motions on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement (TPP) that will be familiar to Canadian trade activists working to exempt municipal governments from the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement.

As reported by TPPWatch in this week's regular TPP news bulletin, Auckland's regional development and operations committee considered a motion on December 6 expressing general support for the TPP negotiations. The motion was tabled by government supporters on council but amended by councillors Richard Northey and Cathy Casey to include so many conditions that it will be nearly impossible for Auckland to endorse the TPP if a deal is ever reached.

As passed by committee with 9 yeas to 7 nays, the TPP motion says an eventual agreement will only be acceptable if it:

i. Continues to allow the Auckland Council and other councils, if they so choose, to adopt procurement policies that provide for a degree of local preference; to choose whether particular services or facilities are provided in house, by council-controlled organisations (CCOs) or by contracting out; or to require higher health and safety, environmental protection, employment rights and conditions, community participation, animal protection or human rights standards than national or international minimum standards;

ii. Maintains good diplomatic and trade relations and partnerships for Auckland and New Zealand with other major trading partners not included in the agreement, including with China;

iii. Provides substantially increased access for our agriculture exports, particularly those from the Auckland region into the US market;

iv. Does not undermine PHARMAC, raise the cost of medical treatments and medicines or threaten public health measures, such as tobacco control;

v. Does not give overseas investors or suppliers any greater rights than domestic investors and suppliers, such as through introducing Investor-State Dispute Settlement, or reduce our ability to control overseas investment or finance;

vi. Does not expand intellectual property rights and enforcement in excess of current law;

vii. Does not weaken our public services, require privatisation, hinder reversal of privatisations, or increase the commercialisation of government or of Auckland Council or other local government organisations;

viii. Does not reduce our flexibility to support local economic and industry development and encourage good employment and environmental practices and initiatives like Council Cadetships, COMET and the Mayor's Taskforce for Jobs which enable marginalised young people to develop their skills and transition into meaningful employment;

ix. Contains enforceable labour clauses requiring adherence to core International Labour Organisation conventions and preventing reduction of labour rights for trade or investment advantage;

x. Contains enforceable environmental clauses preventing reduction of environmental standards for trade or investment advantage;

xi. Has general exceptions to protect human rights, the environment, the Treaty of Waitangi, and New Zealand's economic and financial stability;

xii. Has been negotiated with real public consultation including regular public releases of drafts of the text of the agreement, and ratification being conditional on a full social, environmental and economic impact assessment including public submissions.

"[The Auckland motion] stops short of council resolutions in past years when some councils declared themselves APEC-free, GATS-free and MAI-free zones, but it is a really good precedent for other councils," writes TPPWatch, which is asking New Zealand and other TPP country trade activists to let them know if they want to try something similar in their communities, since the group has many supporting documentation it can share.

Berkeley opposes TPP, supports 21st century trade reform act

Taking a different approach, the City of Berkeley, California has declared itself opposed to the TPP for its "rollback in transparency from other international trade negotiations," which is "unacceptable in a democracy," and because of concerns that it does not secure meaningful market access for U.S. exporters, or satisfactorily address labour and environmental standards. The motion, passed by Berkeley council on January 29 this year, also endorses a trade reform bill from Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) called the 21st Century Trade Agreements and Market Access Act.

Much like its earlier version, the TRADE Act, Brown's bill seeks reforms to the way trade deals are negotiated and with which countries, including a more transparent, participatory process with Congress, and the introduction of binding labour and environmental rules into the agreement -- not just as difficult to enforce side-agreements.

For example, if passed, U.S. trade deals would need to "provide that failures to meet the labor requirements of the agreement, regardless of the effect of such failures on trade, shall be subject to the dispute resolution and enforcement mechanisms and penalties of the agreement." Currently in U.S. and Canadian labour side agreements, only labour violations directly related to trade are disputable and disputes must be sponsored by one of the countries who are party to the free trade agreement in question.

The proposed trade reforms would also "prohibit each country that is a party to the agreement from weakening, eliminating, or failing to enforce domestic environmental or other public safety standards to promote trade or attract investment." You can imagine how this would go over with the current Canadian government, which has very publicly lowered environmental standards across the board to attract new oil, gas and mining investment. Though existing Canadian trade agreements contain language discouraging the weakening of environmental standards, Brown's version is much stronger and would be enforceable with the same teeth as the trade and investment rules in any FTA.

CETA municipal resolutions still a priority

Here in Canada, we should take inspiration from the TPP motions that are starting to be passed in U.S. and New Zealand cities, to continue our campaign to exclude all Canadian municipalities from CETA. A recent resolution passed in Nelson, B.C. is a lot like what Auckland passed in December in that it says if certain conditions are not met in CETA then the city retracts its support for the deal.

To date, we've focused on the negative impacts on local job-creation and sustainable development policies, as well as on the lock-in effect CETA will have on privatization of public services. But our cities, towns and school boards will be negatively affected by changes to Canada's pharmaceutical patent regime that will increase health care and drug costs, as well as the strong investor rights in CETA that could make Canadian policies even more vulnerable to corporate lawsuits than they are under NAFTA.

Canadian municipalities might like to know that their concerns are shared by cities around the world, and that none of us are taking these anti-democratic trade deals sitting down.

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