On immigration in NZ and tikanga Māori

By Carrie Stoddart-Smith

What we do at home with immigration policy matters in the international community. It speaks to the authenticity of our story as an inclusive, progressive and whānau centred country. It affects the credibility of our social, political, cultural and economic relationships. Yet, there are no signs of cooling the debate this election year as tensions rise over decades of inadequate policy settings which now pit immigrants against the ‘ordinary’ New Zealander. Dog. Whistle.

Who is an immigrant?

Some people consider all people living in Aotearoa New Zealand (including Māori) to be immigrants. Māori are the indigenous people of this land. Fact. Some people whose Pākehā ancestors settled in colonial times also consider themselves now indigenous. Fiction. And there is also always a gap in the dialogue – ignoring how we classify people of Asian ancestries as immigrants – whether they arrived in settler times or more recently, while those of European ancestries are viewed as New Zealander, Kiwi or even Pākehā. In effect, we give preference to white immigrant populations and demonise the non-white. We ignore their existence, unless there is a political point to be scored.

In my view, there are probably three primary reasons for this narrative capture:
• The prominent role of biculturalism in our political discourse, and the fear from some Māori of multiculturalism displacing the rights and interests of Māori,
• Almost two centuries of Māori/Pākehā interracial marriage and interracial children where we are more likely to have adopted western values, and
• Racism (Pākehā) and internalised racism (Māori)

For me, being both Māori and Pākehā, I am both indigenous and immigrant. And the tension is inescapable in a million different contexts.

Framing Māori as an immigrant

For Māori, to be labelled an immigrant, is to displace our indigeneity and to question the legitimacy of our claim to this place and our connection to the whenua and all its resources that our tupuna established over hundreds of generations before the European Settlers arrived.

Framing Pākehā as an immigrant

For Pākehā, being labelled an immigrant questions the legitimacy of our legal and political institutions imposed on the indigenous people already settled on this land. It brings the residual guilt of our ancestors to the surface. A feeling that we have happily allowed our political and social institutions to actively suppress to avoid taking ownership of the injustices committed against Māori and the intergenerational effects of those injustices.

Framing people of Asian descent as “the” immigrants

As alluded to above, for both Māori and Pākehā we sidestep the racism in our views on immigration. Offering up reasons to ban or restrict immigration, as if the root cause of our social and economic anxiety isn’t connected to some deeper systemic flaw. We allow our politicians to propagate stories of the immigrant as a non-white undesirable – where to be an immigrant in New Zealand in 2017, is to be Asian. In doing so, we are complicit in the embedding of their hidden xenophobic truth.

Summary of some of the research


Earlier this year, the New Zealand Initiative wrote a report on immigration. In it, they found that Māori have particularly negative attitudes towards new immigration compared with non-Māori.

(Disclaimer: I was invited to attend a seminar on the draft of that paper, and to submit any comments I might have on the kaupapa).

In providing feedback, I posited that employment, housing, natural resources, and ethnic displacement and Te Tiriti o Waitangi provided the context that shaped a contemporary Māori view on immigration. I suggested that our individual experiences of other cultures in a domestic and international context would shape how we view immigration. For example, I noted that Māori in business or who are economically secure through existing international relationships or those who have experienced positive cultural exchanges will inevitably see immigration in a more favourable light. While those who feel threatened by workforce displacement, homelessness, resource exploitation or diminished rights and status would be less favourable.

I drew on examples to demonstrate the frustration of Māori – where correlation is unfortunately treated as causation. For example, where headlines on ‘foreign ownership of homes’ appear alongside ‘more whānau experiencing homelessness’. Where we are still fighting for rights over freshwater, while foreign companies can access, and sell it overseas. Where we have lost almost 95 percent of our land (most of it stolen) to European settlers, while we continue to sell productive farmlands to overseas interests. Where we see workers brought in from overseas to meet labour demands, while our unemployment rate remains at almost twice the national unemployment rate. Yet, in all these examples, the issue is not immigration – it is policy and it is politics.


In 2014, I also wrote a research paper where I explored the validity of the ‘right to exclude’ immigrants. This supposed right is linked to territorial rights established through the imposition of borders i.e. the nation state. I found the only potentially justifiable reason for immigration restrictions to be resource scarcity. In the contemporary New Zealand context (as noted above) that would be jobs, houses, natural resource depletion, pollution or exploitation. I concluded that there is no right to exclude immigrants in the formal sense of what constitutes a ‘right’ but that restrictions related to resource scarcity could provide a case for establishing a system of responsive rights.

I likened a responsive rights system to tikanga Māori, in particular a rāhui, which is a temporary ban to enable local resources to replenish. However, I argued that even in this sense, there was no right to exclude only immigrants – a ban would need to apply to all returning members of that community also. So the right to exclude on the basis of resource scarcity would only be justifiable if it was an indiscriminate responsive right.

A problem with my line of thinking is that from a political – and even a cultural sense, this argument would evoke a visceral reaction from community members excluded from their tūrangawaewae. I concluded that there can be no right to exclude new members from a community as that right is discriminate. This is effectively an argument for open borders.


When I consider immigration to Aotearoa from my indigenous perspective, I think about the extent to which our tupuna supported the arrival of early settlers, going so far as to enter into a Treaty that would govern the relationship. Where we shared in cultural exchange – in some cases, adopting new customs and value systems that we were able to reconcile with our traditional values. I think about our core value of aroha and our obligations to manaaki our manuhiri. I think about kaitiaki of our resources to ensure we can fulfil all our tikanga tuku iho.

Another notable and valid concern, as Tahu Kukutai has written is that of ethnic displacement where some Māori fear “the prospect of Asians displacing Māori as the country’s ethnic “majority minority” and that the perceived preference of migrants for multiculturalism over biculturalism will diminish Māori rights and the status of the Treaty of Waitangi”.

Māori concerns with immigration can be allayed with robust policy developed and implemented through strong Māori political leadership. Policy that does not involve bans and restrictions on immigrants, instead policy that ensures the government upholds its end of Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Housing policy that makes homeownership more accessible for all, fit for occupation rentals at fair prices, and culturally relevant solutions for homelessness. Innovative solutions to education and training speaking to the aspirations of our people, policy to support social and economic mobility and pastoral care for those adjusting to a highly dynamic society with new needs. These are where the fixes are needed. We also need our iwi and those of us engaged with international audiences to speak truth to the value of strong international relationships – emphasising the importance of whanaungatanga in these settings.


Restricting immigration does little to change attitudes, and will not resolve institutional failures afflicting Māori. We are a people who place people as the most important thing in this world. Our future then depends on the authenticity of the relationships that we can build and the integrity we show both at home and abroad. Rather than shutting manuhiri out – a practice that sits in opposition to our tikanga, we must remain committed to fulfilling all our obligations to ensure we position our relationships right for the mutual benefit of all of our uri and the uri of those who arrived here as manuhiri.


TW: This post includes a link to Sonny Bill Williams’ tweet that includes graphic images of two dead children.

By Ellipsister, Co-Editor

Should graphic images posted on social media be accompanied by a trigger warning? Are trigger warnings being overused by educated snowflakes and conservative bigots to avoid their views being challenged? This post briefly explores the importance of trigger warnings to ensure trauma survivors are not involuntarily exposed to triggering material.

Sonny Bill Williams (SBW) tweeted two pictures of dead children to over 554k followers on Twitter. His tweet was retweeted 1,333 times and liked by 1,550 accounts.[1] His post elicited mixed responses. As far as I can see most of it was positive. The odd few criticised his lack of a TW (trigger warning), while others claimed his tweet disrespected the dead, and others just couldn’t stomach the graphic nature of the content.

While the conversation has been taking place in Universities and various circles around the world, the concept of TW’s is still relatively unknown in Aotearoa, unless you’re an avid reader of feminist forums, blogs, articles etc.

Trigger warnings  were originally designed for the benefit of people with post-traumatic stress disorder. They involve a written or verbal statement warning that an article or discussion might contain triggering material for trauma survivors. Kate Manne, NY Times writes:

The idea was to flag content that depicted or discussed common causes of trauma, like military combat, child abuse, incest and sexual violence. People could then choose whether or not to engage with this material.

TW’s are about enabling people to voluntarily expose themselves to content that might evoke a strong psychological response, rather than having it imposed on them without being able to prepare themselves and thereby leading to a triggering event.

A useful analogy for TW’s was offered by Evalith on Fuck Yeah, Trigger Warnings in which she explains that being triggered is like having an allergic reaction.

The analogy in brief is that both triggering and allergies are involuntary reactions to particular stimuli both varying in degrees from minor to severe. While an allergy is physical, triggering is psychological. And just as food labels provide allergy warnings, so too should content that we know could potentially trigger an involuntary psychological response grounded in past trauma.

The SBW tweet has highlighted that some people view TW’s as censorship. This is kind of true, but it’s not of suppression lineage. It is soft-censoring that enables trauma survivors the choice to decide if they will voluntarily expose themselves to potentially triggering content. TW discourse is not without its critics but I cannot see how having a well functioning empathy barometer is squawked at as coddling of the mind.

The question then is should SBW have used a TW with his tweet? The short answer in my view is yes. But including a TW is dependent on a couple of things:

  • the person knowing that TW’s are a thing; and
  • understanding what they are and why they’re important.

The learning for us all is in future then is to perhaps think about our content and note that it doesn’t take too many characters to say TW: dead children (adjusted accordingly). If you’re unsure, here’s a list of common examples on when to use TW’s. It’s also useful for Twitter users who don’t want to automatically see image previews, to disable this feature.

Responsibility for content is not one-sided given the nature of the platforms we choose to use. But a simple TW can potentially save a person from reliving their trauma – whatever it may be.

Mike McRoberts offered a relevant perspective regarding SBW’s tweet too in that it was intended to make us all uncomfortable. While there is certainly truth in that for the majority of us who have not experienced living in a war zone, or under violent oppressive rule, and who don’t put to much thought into overseas conflicts, it does overlooks the very real experiences of trauma survivors. Discomfort and triggers are not synonymous.

For the record, I don’t think we should be hammering SBW hard for not including a TW. However, I do agree that as an internationally renowned sports star, and a UNICEF Ambassador that SBW has a responsibility to recognise that some of his followers may be Syrian refugees, or trauma survivors who have had similar experiences and that those pictures might trigger a severe emotional response in them, whether he intended that or not.

We need to be clear though: TW’s should never become the default for over-educated progressive snowflakes or impossibly conservative bigots who just want to avoid exposure to material that challenges their prevailing views. TW’s serve a specific purpose the co-option and degradation of which would be incredibly harmful for freedom of thought and expression. Like I said above – responsibility for content is not one sided but a TW is not too big of an ask especially when it is of no consequence to those of us unaffected, but of huge benefit to trauma survivors.


[1] Last checked 30 December 2015, at 14:37.

The Paralysis of the Security Council in Syria

In this last week, New Zealand took two opportunities, one by Murray McCully at the Security Council and one by John Key at the General Assembly, to deplore the United Nations Security Council for failing to act in Syria. Between Bashar Al-Assad and ISIS/L, the Situation in Syria has become just as bad as, if not worse than, Rwanda in 1994. Last year, the deputy Secretary-General told the UN that a “failure of political will” led to the “cascade of human tragedy” that left between 500,000 and 1,000,000 Tutsi Rwandans slaughtered and a further two million Rwandans displaced seeking refuge in neighbouring countries. In Syria, more than 300,000 civilians have been killed (of which more than a quarter have been women and children) since 2011, leading to the current refugee crisis of over four million (registered) refugees fleeing to neighbouring countries, and a further six million domestically displaced within Syria.

It’s hard to really comprehend the numbers and the sheer scale of the problem; night after night, the news recites the statistics and we become numb to the reality that a group of people the size of the population of New Zealand is currently trying to find a new home. When it comes to determining why this has happened, the knowledge that this could all have been avoided is crushing. Since the first protests held in March 2011 in the context of the Arab Spring, and the violent response from the government, there have been many opportunities for action. Yet every time real action has been proposed, it has been shut down.

Four Security Council resolutions on Syria have been explicitly vetoed, with many more experiencing the “soft veto” – draft resolutions that never even make it to the debating chamber because permanent members have indicated that they will unconditionally veto. Every time this happens, war crimes and crimes against humanity are implicitly permitted to continue by the global community.

In 2005 the United Nations unanimously adopted the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine, which argues that sovereignty is not an absolute right, and that aspects of sovereignty are forfeited when states fail to protect (or themselves cause) mass atrocity crimes and severe human rights violations. The kicker was that UN Security Council would be the only body that could authorise military intervention. It did so in Darfur (2006), Libya (2011-2012), Cote D’Ivoire (2011), Yemen (2011), Mali (2012-2013), and Sudan/South Sudan (2011-2013). Yet it remains paralysed in the case of Syria, only managing to agree to stop the Syrian government from using chemical weapons against its own people. The Security Council had and still has a Responsibility to Protect, and it has failed to uphold that responsibility thus far.

Many, many proposals for Security Council reform have been proposed over the decades, driven by frustration over the blocking nature of the veto. The situation has only worsened over time, with reports that the permanent members now meet and discuss resolutions in private, essentially pre-determining the outcome of Security Council sessions and locking out the ten rotating elected members. To be frank, the Security Council is currently imbalanced and does not accurately reflect the true power structures of the world we live in today. A structure that allows for entrenched, self-validating authority and privilege will only cause the divide to widen over time.

What looks like the most promising reform proposal at this stage is to prevent the use of veto in cases of mass atrocities or genocide, which would align with the R2P doctrine and the arguments surrounding the “responsibility not to veto”. The proposal is only a small step towards rebalancing the Security Council, but it is supported by both France and the United Kingdom (which only makes it marginally more likely to happen).

However, this is only a band-aid solution. The Security Council’s inaction in Syria is only a symptom of the widening divide and eternal struggle between the West (US, UK, and France) and the East (Russia and China). In 2013 and 2014, a third of the General Assembly called for Security Council and veto reform in their General Debate speeches. More substantial changes will be required in order to clear the blockage that restricts the flow of political will through the Security Council.

Personally, I would support increased utilisation of UNGA Resolution 377A (“Uniting for Peace), which has unfortunately mostly become an idealised plot device for writers (I’m looking at you, House of Cards). In response to inaction by the Security Council to respond to the Korean War in 1950, a precedent was established that allows a special majority (2/3rds) of the General Assembly to override vetos in the Security Council and have “final responsibility” for restoring international peace and security. Of course, a lot of international relations and politics still limit the ultimate utility of this mechanism, but removing the bottleneck of the Security Council may be what is necessary to salvage the efficacy of the United Nations.

As the Prime Minister said: “We cannot afford to let the council go from an institution with failings to a failed institution.” Business as usual does not cut it. Without reform the Security Council will only descend into irrelevancy (and drag the entire United Nations down with it) until someone believes that they have the mandate to try something different. The uncertainty of that is unsettling, but more importantly in the meantime, the deaths continue.

More manaaki needed for our refugee whānau

By Ellipsister (Co-Editor)

On Friday 4 September 2015, the National Party confirmed it would deny leave (this coming week)  for both the Labour Party and Green Party to table emergency legislation in the House that would allow for an emergency intake of, and an increase in the annual quota of refugees accepted into NZ (respectively). Many opposition supporters and media have criticised this decision by the government demanding immediate action to proactively respond to this humanitarian crisis.

One of the concerns of the National Party will be that a win by the opposition would make the government look ineffective and not in control and this is a perception they’ll certainly want to avoid. There is also the fact that the government can respond to the situation without introducing any legislation into the house, and without conceding a win to the opposition, since the refugee programme is primarily a Cabinet decision and under the current cabinet agreement, the government can already accept 50 individuals as part of their emergency intake programme. I’m unsure, however, whether this would be similar to Helen Clark’s decision to accept an emergency intake of 150 refugees on the Tampa in 2001, where those individuals formed part of the existing 750 annual quota. Regardless, given the slow response by the government, it is difficult to believe that any measures that may be taken will be the result of genuine concern, but rather because of both public and international pressure to take action.

On the basis that there is increasing public interest in raising the annual refugee quota, there is a high probability that the planned 2016 review will simply be brought forward to quell the disquiet. Of note, in 1987 the refugee quota was set at 800 individuals and in 1997 was reduced under a National led government to 750 where it has remained since. There is here then, an opportunity for National to remedy their contemptible 1997 decision to reduce our refugee intake. As others have pointed out also, with NZ holding a seat on the UN Security Council, there are likely expectations from the international community that we take a lead (with the other UNSC member states) in the response to this crisis. The fact that all three confidence and supply (C & S) parties support an increase in the annual refugee intake as well as emergency provisions, is perhaps another aspect that will likely influence whatever action National may take this week.

What I remain mindful of, is how we manaaki refugees on arrival in NZ. At the moment, the primary provider for receiving refugees accepted by NZ is the Red Cross who run a ‘six-week orientation programme at the Department of Immigration’s Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre’ before resettling refugees in five communities around New Zealand – a decision that is made by the government.

As the Red Cross explain:

Resettlement is a life-changing experience as refugees are often resettled to a country where the society, language and culture are completely different from their own and much is new to them. It is both challenging and rewarding for these individuals.

There are good reasons for the six week orientation programme that deals predominantly with practical matters such as setting up bank accounts and understanding the local laws, but also physical and mental health checks to determine the care needed (if any). However, often when people talk of resettling refugees it is sadly in assimilatory terms where the things that matter are how well refugees can speak English, and their willingness to walk the Pākehā world.

It is for this reason that I consider Māori could actively participate in resettlement initiatives to help heal the wairua of our refugee whānau, and to awhi their connection to our whenua so that they can rebuild their lives here supported by our enduring customs. Through the principles of whakawhanaungatanga (establishing relationships) and manaakitanga (care, generosity and hospitality) and whakapapa we could ensure that retaining a connection to their whenua and whānau abroad, while rebuilding their lives in this country is an important part of the resettlement process. This could potentially be achieved through multilateral partnerships between hapū, iwi and hapori Māori, the government, (relevant) embassies and local organisations that provide services to and for refugees to deliver resettlement initiatives.

We cannot forget that refugees arrive here through reasons beyond their control and as such are forced to live in a new land and within a culture alien to their own.  As tangata whenua we have an obligation to ensure that people arriving in this country – especially those who were forcibly disconnected from their whenua through the trauma of armed conflict and/or persecution are received with the care, generosity and aroha, that our tikanga demands and are supported to achieve their aspirations.

Why is the TPP being negotiated in secret?

By Andrew Chen

“You don’t go into a poker game with your cards laid out on the table.”

– National MP Chris Bishop (at the AUSA politics week debate, 14 August 2015)

Apart from the obvious issue of comparing trade negotiations with gambling, this response creates an interesting train of thought. The proponents of the TPP have long argued that “international trade agreements are always negotiated in secret”, as if tradition can never be challenged. They argue that this is because negotiators cannot do their jobs effectively if their every move is questioned by the public. They argue that negotiators cannot achieve the best outcome for their respective countries if they reveal too much information. Maybe two months ago I would have agreed with them, but over the last few weeks I thought a little bit more about why those arguments might not hold up.

There are two key flaws with these arguments that rely on traditional models of negotiation. Firstly, international trade negotiations are a vastly different beast to confidential business-to-business negotiations, because so much information is available in the public domain about each of the parties. It is no secret that New Zealand wants better access to sell dairy in currently highly tariffed or subsidised markets. It is no secret that the United States wants to extend intellectual property protection on medical drugs in order to better incentivise pharmaceutical development. It is no secret that Vietnam and Malaysia want to keep their state-owned businesses that provide lower cost services to the majority of their populations.

These negotiation positions and bottom lines are known because we have a multitude of data with which to understand the background and context of each country. Each party to the negotiations is a government that debates in their respective houses publicly about the trials and tribulations facing their countries almost every day. It’s difficult to see how any of the parties to the negotiations could have secret bargaining positions that are unknown to the others. At a broad level, everyone knows what everyone else wants. Everyone knows what the overall goals of each state are, and everyone knows what the bottom lines of each state are. There may be some details left to quibble over, but what a state is willing or not willing to give up is largely known, and therefore not worth trying to keeping secret from the other negotiators. The lack of commonality between the bargaining positions is probably what is causing the negotiations to endlessly go on (they were started in 2009), which leads us to the next point.

The second key flaw is the assumption that there is something to be won over the other parties. When there are so many people in involved, and so many eyes scrutinising any deal, any party is going to know if they’re getting shafted pretty quickly. In traditional models of negotiation, the goal is often to come away with an agreement that is a win for you, even if that means less of a win or a loss for the other party. You can rely on underhanded tactics, from psychological manipulation to lying in order to convince the other party to take a deal that is in your interests and probably not really in theirs.

These tactics are much less likely to work when entire countries are involved. A government that agrees to and signs a deal that is detrimental to their country is likely to get hit with a referendum or voted out, and the legislation required to ratify any agreement would be not passed or later repealed. Government and trade negotiators know this – they have to push very hard not to lose in these negotiations. So there are two endgames here. One is that we follow the traditional model, and everyone pushes for their self-interest in order to “win”. If we follow that strategy, then perhaps withholding information to create an asymmetric situation to hold power makes sense. But with twelve rather diverse parties, it seems increasingly likely that this means that there are areas with no common ground, making it difficult for all parties to win.

The other endgame is that everyone pushes for compromise, in order to achieve the best deal for all parties involved. This utilitarianistic thinking would mean that some parties (probably the bigger ones) take more of a hit than others, in order to create an even and fair agreement that benefits everyone a little bit, rather than benefitting a few parties a lot. This is ultimately what should really be happening if the parties want to be able to pass a deal, because they know that a deal passed with all parties involved is much stronger than a deal passed with only half the parties on board. To do this, the parties have to co-operate, much like an anti-competitive cartel. The parties have to trust each other, and work together to find the solution that optimises towards a good deal for everyone. In this case, it doesn’t actually make sense for negotiators to withhold information from each other, because it makes it harder to achieve that optimal deal if they don’t know what each party wants.

Lastly, there’s one more important point to bring up. It is argued that if the trade agreement is not negotiated in secret, if the public is able to follow the negotiations, then the deal will fall apart. This can be argued ideologically, but to see if this stands up we only have to look at the reality. The fact that chapters of the draft agreement have been leaked has already at least partially compromised the secrecy of the agreement. The fact that the public is talking about the agreement, and that there are rallies and protests in the various countries, means that the secrecy surrounding the agreement has not been effective at preventing the public from scrutinising the deal and challenging their governments. Most importantly, despite the failure to keep the TPP out of public discussion, the negotiations have gone on undeterred. The main asserted harm of losing the secrecy of the negotiations has not eventuated.

I am not necessarily opposed to there being a trade agreement. I am not necessarily opposed to free trade, and like many TPP supporters, I will withhold judgement on the actual deal until we have seen it. But the secrecy surrounding the deal is something that I have issue with, and I am yet to read or see a good reason why that secrecy should continue. If the benefits of secrecy have not accrued, then what is the real reason for keeping the negotiations secret?

The Beginning and the End of the TPPA

Jordan McCluskey, Co-Editor. 

We are a nation of traders. New Zealand is a country that has, since its colonisation, been dependent on foreign trade to support our economy. Extractive industries came first for the Kauri, then gold, then whale oil, and finally seal furs. Following colonial wars of dispossession against Māori, the land was then transformed, through large foreign borrowing by the Vogel government in New Zealand from London, into being suitable for a nation of smallhold farmers. A severe slump in the 1880s and continuing economic boom and bust in the 1890s lead to what James Belich calls the ‘recolonisation’ of New Zealand for the production of meat and dairy for the market of the British Empire.

This system of imperial trade saw Britain take almost all our meat and dairy until the mid-1960s, when it signalled that it wished to join the European Economic Community (The Pre-EU economic organisation). Britain would stop taking all our mutton, wool, and cheese at guaranteed prices for New Zealand if it gained entry. The New Zealand government spent years lobbying Britain to back out, but in 1973 Britain entered the EEC, causing New Zealand to lose its largest market for its goods.

New Zealand pivoted to Asia for trade from the 1970s out of necessity and became highly respected around the world as tough but fair, innovative trade enthusiasts. The Kirk government recognised the People’s Republic of China in 1972. The Muldoon government assiduously courted fellow Commonwealth nations in Asia, trying to improve trade flows.

The crowning economic achievement of the Muldoon government (yes, they exist) was signing the CER free trade agreement with Australia. Following the Rogernomics reforms of agriculture, almost all tariffs and subsidies were removed from the New Zealand economy out of pure necessity, as we are told that the country could no longer afford them.

New Zealand’s reputation in free trade became one of the best in the world. A country with no tariffs or subsidies. A small unthreatening nation on the periphery of the globe. A country seeking to improve its trade to improve its economic livelihood, with no hidden agendas. With this context in mind, may surprise you that the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) is not something being forced on New Zealand, but was in fact the creation of New Zealand trade negotiators. It is not an American invention.

Initially between the Pacific Rim countries of Brunei, Singapore, Chile and New Zealand, it gained the interest of the United States, leading to excitement of our government.

The TPP is not the world’s first RTA (Regional Trade Agreement). The European Union is a customs union with a shared currency and no tariffs between member states, though with the kind of incredibly distorting agricultural subsidies that New Zealand has long since abandoned. NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) created a free trade zone between Canada, Mexico and the United States under Bill Clinton. Mercosur has created a free trade zone incorporating most of South America.

The problem with RTAs is that they tend to be dominated by the interests of the larger states. The EU as we have seen in the unfolding Greek tragedy is dominated by Germany, NAFTA by the United States, and Mercosur by Brazil. There are also weaker and more dysfunctional customs unions in Africa and the nations of the former Soviet Union. The WTO (World Trade Organisation) actually frowns on RTAs, and prefers that states work towards bilateral (state to state) trade agreements, in order to work towards the WTO’s overarching goal of a completely free trade world.

So a small, relatively niche RTA gained the interest of the United States. Following them Australia, Vietnam, Peru, Malaysia, Mexico, Japan, Taiwan, and Canada entered negotiations. China also wants to be part of TPP negotiations, but the United States is resisting them, in another episode of the adversarial symbiosis which plagues the two great powers of our age.

New Zealand has allowed the United States into the TPP negotiations to try and gain the holy grail of our trade negotiators for four decades: Free Trade with the USA. Policy Officers of MFAT (Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade) are conditioned from entering the Ministry, that Free Trade with the United States is something that must be attained no matter the cost, even if really does not make economic sense any more.

Previous attempts have been derailed by David Lange refusing to allow nuclear ships to enter our waters, and Helen Clark refusing to invade the Middle East with George W Bush. The TPP is our silver medal, a backdoor way to try and get free trade with the United States. It is a quest to fulfill the yearnings of the only Ministry in New Zealand besides the Treasury to resist long overdue concerted change. MFAT was formed in the 1940s, and its strategic outlook remains stuck in the 1940s.

At the beginning of the twentieth century the politics of Anglophone world were riven by debates on tariff policy. The two major political alignments in Australia were even know as protectionist or free trader. The benefits of Free Trade are so well known, they are almost a cliché. More trade, more jobs, more economic growth. If the TPP was purely about the reduction of tariffs, and the elimination of subsidies, it would have my full support. But it is not. The TPP has a dark side.

The TPP contains provisions introduced to the United States relating to intellectual property, pharmaceuticals and investor-state arbitration. There are also complaints that as trade negotiations go, the TPPA has set new standards in terms of secrecy and lack of disclosure to the citizens of states who may enter into it. I don’t agree with this complaint because trade agreements have always been negotiated in secret due to commercial sensitivity. However, fragments of leaked text continue to leak.

They show that Intellectual property changes would make it easier for members to sue each other in the other nation’s courts over issues such as copyright and patents. The provisions relating to pharmaceuticals would require New Zealand to disestablish the state pharmaceutical purchaser, Pharmac, in favour of American drugs which may be more effective, but also far more expensive.

Of the potential negatives of the TPP, the investor-state arbitration is perhaps the most damaging. I would preface what follows next by saying I am not a lawyer, and I apologise in advance if what I state next is not technically perfect. If a government changes the law in a way that disadvantages a product, say for example tobacco, the tobacco company or its host government could then sue the offending country’s government for hundreds of millions of dollars in that country’s own courts.

This is without a doubt, a damaging attack on the sovereignty of the nation state. The freedom to regulate and legislate for our own people would be seriously harmed by entering into the TPP. The TPP would also have a destructive effect on how New Zealand manages its environment, regarded as one of the most pristine biospheres left on the Earth. Water quality, energy usage and oil drilling decisions could all be challenged under investor-state arbitration provisions.

New Zealand is a nation of Free Traders, with an economy built on the lifeblood of international trade. Without trade our country would be a poor, third rate Kiwifruit republic. We have however become so invested in our reputation as the world’s most ideologically pure free traders that we have lost sight of the reason our country pursues free trade; to make our country richer, not poorer. I would argue the primary reason our country is pursuing the TPP is gain back door entry to free trade with the United States. There is no need to accept a trade agreement with the kind of huge gaping flaws the TPP has in it.

China is now the world’s largest economy according to the IMF. We already have free trade with them. We are a small country of nearly 5 million people trading with a country of 1.3 billion. This is already seeing New Zealand beginning to reach the edges of its biological and environmental limits. There is only so much land that can be converted to dairying, and cows can certainly not be stacked on top of each other.

The counter argument is that by being so locked into the Chinese economy, we risk recession if China experiences economic turmoil. So would the entire planet. There is only so much we can produce, we are quickly reaching the absolute peak of that, and having a bigger market to sell it too would probably not make much more than a marginal difference.

So we come to the point where we should try and view things coolly and dispassionately. What is the point of Free Trade? To mutually increase the wealth of nations engaged in trade with each by the reduction of barriers to trade. What is not Free Trade? Reducing barriers, but inserting fish hooks into a trade agreement so the economic gains are offset by new costs. What would New Zealand stand to gain from the TPP? Greater access for agricultural products. What would New Zealand stand to lose or pay? Greater costs for medications, greater environmental degradation, lawsuits against our government costing the taxpayer millions of dollars.

The government argues that the benefits to dairy, among other sectors would see the increased wealth filter down into the wider New Zealand economy offsetting the potential negatives of the TPP. I disagree. This is not the case. For this reason New Zealand should not sign the TPPA. The maths does not, and will not, stack up.