5 DECEMBER 2010:
The NZ Herald’s Fran O’Sullivan reports
that AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka wrote to NZ Trade Minister Tim Groser a fortnight ahead of this week’s talks, warning that a change to New Zealand’s employment laws recently passed under urgency may have prematurely jeopardized US union support of NZ inclusion in the TPP.
In late October, New Zealand’s parliament passed the Employment Relations (Film Production Work) Amendment Bill, the effect of which was to make film industry workers by default independent contractors, rather than employees. Previously, New Zealand’s Employment Relations Act required courts to interpret the ‘real nature’ of the work undertaken to determine whether a worker was in fact an employee or contractor. The extra-contractual nature of this interpretation exercise is also taken by employment courts in Australia, the US, the UK, and Canada.
The Bill excluded all workers who undertake ‘film production work’ from the definition of employee. It was passed as a reassurance to MGM Studios, who were threatening to move filming of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit to the Czech Republic following a dispute between actors’ unions and the studio which MGM claimed would make continued production in New Zealand untenable.
Trumka’s November 15 letter to Groser said that the “misclassification” contained in the Bill represented a “serious problem” which deprived workers of the right to organize and bargain collectively.
He want to say that the Bill “would violate the labour provisions of any future trade agreement between our two countries that we could support."
The Herald goes on to report that NZ Industrial Relations Minister Kate Wilkinson will respond to Trumka’s letter, re-affirming her government’s view that the law change reflects the realities of the film industry without preventing film production workers from being employed as employees where all parties in a contract agree.
8 OCTOBER 2010: Democratic Congressman David Wu has written an open letter to Barack Obama, calling for all US trade agreements under negotiations, particularly the TPP, to promote and uphold human rights.
Wu's letter observes that talks such as the TPP should be used as an opportunity to advance democracy and the rule of law in other member countries, and points to the so-called 'democracy clauses' in other trade agreements around the world (including the integration agreements for the EU and MERCOSUR), that the US could follow as an example.
In the TPP context, he points in particular to the presence of Brunei, Singapore and Vietnam in talks - all three of whom have been cited in the past for arbitrary limits on freedom of speech, the press, religious freedom, and assembly.
The full text of Congressman Wu's letter can be read here.
2 SEPTEMBER 2010: Inside US Trade reports the the Office of the US Trade Representative is currently pursuing multiple approaches to achieve 'regulatory coherence' among TPP parties. This is being done to relieve barriers to exports. USTR is currently asking private-sector stakeholders to identify priority areas where regulatory barriers need to be examined and potentially removed.
Assistant US Trade Representative has also indicated that the US is keen to look at establishing new TPP-wide regulatory systems for emerging industries, as well as increasing transparency in current regulatory requirements among TPP countries - this may be done through the construction of a database that provides all information on these requirements in one place for those who may want to trade within the TPP.
It is reported that other USTR officials suggested that the Obama administration is looking to expand the provisions on labour and environmental protections before what was inclued in past US agreements. This may include cooperative efforts on job creation and skills enhancement, and the promotion and regulatory reform of 'green' technology. Particular areas of interest cited by US Trade Reps have reportedly been illegal logging, wildlife trafficking, and marine conservation.
30 JULY 2010: Following the unveiling of widespread labour law reforms by John Key's National government, the NZ Council of Trade Unions has announced it will no longer co-operate on trade issues, while AFL-CIO head Richard Trumka has cancelled an impending visit to NZ in response to the changes in employment conditions.
A fortnight ago, Key announced a raft of changes, including a universal expansion of 90-day 'fire at will' probation periods for new employees, requiring permission for union representatives to visit workplaces, allowing workers to trade in a fourth week of annual leave for cash, and requiring workers to provide proof of illness on request if they take a sick day.
The CTU president, Helen Kelly, said that while her body has been "prepared to work with government and business to promote the best possible outcome for New Zealand" in the past, the government's new path of "undermining workers" means that unions cannot support the government any longer on trade matters.
Trumka was set to make an official visit to NZ early next year as part of National's campaign to build strategic allies ahead of further TPP negotiations, but he made the decision to 'indefinitely postpone' the trip following the reaction of the NZ union movement to the changes. Kelly has expressed concern that he would have been 'paraded' by Key's government in an attempt to give NZ a more union-friendly appearance.
NZ Trade Minister Tim Groser has already criticised the union stance as short-sighted. While the leader of the opposition Labour Party, Phil Goff, blamed National for Trumka's cancellation, he also re-affirmed his party's support for the TPP.
09 JULY 2010: US senators have stated on a visit to Vietnam that the country must allow free and independent labour unions if it was to liberalise trade in a US agreement. Senator Tom Harkin told reporters that guarantees of freedom of organisation would be "an essential part" of any future US trade liberalisation agreement. Harkin is chair of the Senate Committee on Labor.
Vietnam currently bans all labour unions that are independent of the ruling Communist Party. Human Rights Watch reports that as recently as May, individuals who had violated this law were being arrested and detained.
An AFP article on Harkin's visit follows below the break.
24 JULY 2010: The Wall Street Journal reports a US trade official as saying that enough may have been done in the TPP talks last week for parties to start drafting a core text for the pact by October, at the third round of negotiations in Brunei. However, the official also reported that the task of structuring market-opening timelines for manufactured goods and agriculture will still require further discussions. It is understood that the US is keen to preserve existing market access plans in its existing trade deals with Australia, Chile, and Singapore, rather than developing a complicated new schedule.
The official also said that the pace of talks would mean that partners interested in becoming part of the initial bloc, such as Canada and Malaysia, would have to come to the table by early next year. As was suggested during the talks, this also presumably means that those new countries would need to agree to what was already in place amongst the original eight member states.
The WSJ also relayed that there was 'consensus' about additional measures to spur job creation and preserve the environment in the eventual agreement, although more substantive details were not offered.
22 JUNE 2010: US Representatives Linda Sanchez (California-D) and George Miller (California-D) have written an op-ed in the Huffington Post, framing the TPP talks as an 'excellent opportunity' for Barack Obama to deliver on his trade campaign committments and break away from the NAFTA models of the 1990s onwards. They call for the TPP to build on the initial improvements to the Peru Free Trade Agreement (negotiated for by House Democrats in 2007) by redressing currently 'excessive' foreign investor privileges, more stringent safety and inspection standards for food and manufactured goods, and promote US-based green manufacturing.
It also examines the records of Brunei and Vietnam and calls for the final text to include a democracy clause of some sort, cautioning that their inclusion may otherwise promote sweatshop labour in Asia while damaging industry in the US.
15 JUNE 2010: San Francisco community newspaper the San Francisco Appeal reports that representatives of labour, environmental, andl civil society groups will demonstrate alongside a mix of other activists outside the second round of TPP negotiations, which began on Monday at the South of Market area of San Francisco's CBD. Local area politicians will appear alongside the California Fair Trade Coalition and the San Francisco Labor Council at the rally. The demonstration has been described as an attempt to channel the talks toward job retention, environmental protection, and human rights.
A noon concert by The Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde, in association with PETA, aimed to highlight the Australian wool industry's failure to stop mulesing of lambs, while a number of public health groups have also been campaigning ahead of this week's meeting to retain US controls on tobacco in any negotiation.
7 JUNE 2010 - The Wall Street Journal has written on the 'relatively modest regional deal' (in their words) that is the TPP. The pieces focuses on the gaps between the Obama administration, civil society groups, and business interests around the agreement, and quotes the National Association of Manufacturers' fears that inclusion of '21st century' labour and environmental standards could end up being too tough.
The article also quotes the sponsor of the TRADE Act bill, Michael Michaud, as reporting that House supporters of the Act's aims have met with the USTR and are working towards a 'positive trade agenda'.
5 APRIL 2010 - Alejandra Alayza, coordinator of the Pervian Network for Globalisation with Equity (RedGE) has written a piece on diariolaprimeraperu in which there is a little speculation on what exactly a TPP agreement between the US and Peru could offer in the way of new deals and bargaining - and if so, how onerous those new requirements may be. The original piece is in Spanish, but an English translation follows below the break.
26 MARCH 2010 - La Republica and IPS report that a former Peruvian Deputy Minister of Labour, Julio Gamero, has warned that the large number of trade agreeements Peru has signed in the past year, as well as the impending negotiations in the TPP, may be having a negative impact on labour rights.
Gamero warned IPS that over the past three years, the number of collective bargaining agreements, health and safety inspections, and unionised members of the workforce has fallen dramatically. He is critical of the government's response, saying that it was not until a US delegation on labour issues visited Lima that a liaison office between government and unions was created. Coordinator for the Peruvian Network for Globalisation with Equity (RedGE), Alejandra Alayza, says it is essential to guarantee labour rights in any further agreements so that workers may share in the benefits.
The IPS article, which follows below, also looks at the effect of tariff-lowering on peasant farmers, as well as the TPA with the United States's impact on indigenous forestry rights and intellectual property.
3 MAY 2010: Malaysian National News Agency Bernama reports that the government, via its Finance Ministry, is considering changing its government procurement laws to allow foreign companies to participate in contracts. Currently in several key contracts the government does not allow the participation of foreign suppliers, as Malaysia is policy bound to support local entrepreneurs. International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed says relaxing procurement laws is one of three criteria Malaysia must meet to join the trade pact, along with the introduction of a clear competition policy and reform of labour laws.
APRIL 2 2010: The possibility of a broad regional trade agreement in the Pacific is reportedly leading Australia, New Zealand and Singapore to consider reopening the market access arrangements in their own existing bilateral trade agreements. While sources are suggesting this is being done with an intention of creating a single, unified market access schedule to eliminate a 'spaghetti bowl' effect ahead of a TPP Agreement, a USTR official has already expressed doubts about reopening these agreements at a sensitive time. An Inside US Trade story follows below the break...
Senior columnist for the Melbourne Age Kenneth Davidson has written of his general concerns for the repercussions free trade agreements have on domestic democracy and the commodification of labour, while also expressing concern about the secrecy and lack of engagement surrounding the initial round of negotiations. The article can be found online here, or below the break.
MARCH 15, 2010: Trade unions from across the Pacfic have called for a fairer trade agreement network today, fearing the possible outcomes of an 'everything on the table' agreement. New Zealand's Council of Trade Unions has been keeping counsel with its counterparts in the US and Australia. The joint declaration of the combined TPP unions (Australia, NZ, Singapore, USA) can be read here. The individual unions, including CTU have issued their own statements.
MARCH 14, 2010 - With TPP Negotiations set to commence in Melbourne on March 15, over 30 community and union groups have combined to make an appeal to the Australian government and Trade Minister. They ask that any completed agreement safeguard the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, Australian local content in media, regulation of GE food, regulation of foreign investment and industry policies that support local employment. The joint statement follows below the break.