‘Curing the TPPA disease’ – Speech to Wellington Rally for Democracy

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Kia ora koutou. My name is Grant Brookes. I’ve been asked to speak here today, when rallies are taking place against the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement all around the country, as a nurse and the President of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation.

NZNO is an organisation of 47,000 members. We’re the union for nurses, midwives, and other members of the care team, and the professional association for nurses in New Zealand.

This week, we had our annual conference. We talked about many things. One of them was anti-microbial resistance. It’s something you might have heard about, in the news? The worrying emergence of new “super-bugs”, which are immune to all known antibiotics.

Some of us might have started to wonder whether the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement was like a super-bug. It was starting to seem that no matter what was thrown at it, this infection in our body politic could not be cured. Opinion polls showed most people opposed it, thousands of parliamentary submissions opposed it, tens of thousands of people protested against it, and still the TPPA infection was spreading.

But I am pleased to tell you that the TPPA is not a super-bug. We’ve found an effective treatment, and this particular infection looks likely to be cured. And I’m proud to say that nurses have been administering the medication.

All signs at the moment indicate that the United States will not ratify the deal, at least in its present form. Barack Obama is facing what looks like insurmountable opposition in Congress, and will leave office in January. If the US doesn’t ratify, then whole deal collapses. 

The idea is being peddled that Donald Trump, the master flip-flopper, is responsible for building this opposition to the TPP. Don’t buy it. The reason that US politicians have gone cold on the deal was the groundswell of opposition in the Democratic Party this year, especially around the presidential challenger Bernie Sanders.

And NZNO’s sister union over there, National Nurses United, was at the heart of that groundswell. They lobbied, they protested, they built Bernie’s campaign, and they highlighted the health impacts to the American public.

The TPPA would have made medicine even less affordable, stymied regulation of the unhealthy things being pumped into our food and our environments – including greenhouse gases – and increased the social inequality and stress responsible for much ill-health.

And there’s even a link between the TPPA and the emergence of the real super-bugs. Because in the United States, 80 percent of all antibiotics are given to livestock. American farm animals consume antibiotics for breakfast, lunch and dinner, added into their feed.

It’s this kind of indiscriminate use in farming, thanks to weak regulation, which is the main reason behind the growth of anti-microbial resistance now threatening human health. And the TPPA is all about exporting America’s model of regulation to other countries, furthering the spread of the problem.

So now that we’ve found an effective treatment to cure the TPPA infection, what we need to do is step up the dose – because even though we’re well on the way to recovery from the TPPA, our government is pressing ahead with law changes in line with the TPPA anyway. And we’re already being threatened by the next infections – the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) and a possible renegotiated TPPA Mark Two.

NZNO is up for it. We’ve just endorsed the Joint Statement of Principles on Trade and Health from the Public Health Association. Amongst other things, we’re going to keep on insisting that:

• Trade and investment agreements should prioritise health and social and ecological sustainability as well as economic development.

• Trade and investment agreements, and their dispute settlement mechanisms, should be consistent with international law with regard to health, human rights, the environment, and worker protection.

• Trade and investment agreements must:

a. prioritise equity within and between countries for global population health improvement.

b. not limit or override a country’s ability to foster and maintain systems and infrastructure that contribute to the health and well-being of its citizens, nor penalise a government for doing so.

c. preserve policy space for governments to regulate to protect public health.

d. be negotiated in a transparent fashion, with opportunities for public and parliamentary scrutiny before commitments are made, and

e. be subject to health and environmental impact assessments that are carried out by parties independent of corporate interests.

Thank you.

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