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Avoiding Politics

July 14, 2014

Yes, it has been a while since I wrote a post here.

The main reason is that on February 8th I got involved with campaigning against the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA or TPP) and I wanted to avoid ‘getting political’ in this blog. TPPA has been at the forefront of my mind for most of the last six months and this post attests to what I suspected… that it would be hard to leave it out of my writing.

But I’ve realised that ‘not getting political’ IS political! If you accept the status quo without question or comment then you’re actively supporting it. If I don’t tell you about the TPPA and how it will affect health in New Zealand then what kind of Future Focused Health is this?

The TPPA is a so-called “Free Trade Agreement.” I say ‘so-called’ because this agreement aims to lock in regulations that most of us would consider to be monopolistic; the complete opposite of what we expect ‘Free Trade’ to mean. New Zealand is in negotiations with eleven other Pacific Rim nations (Australia, Brunei, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, Vietnam, Chile, Peru, Mexico, Canada and the USA) and this promises to be the biggest ‘trade deal’ in terms of combined GDP the world has ever seen.

So what? Well if it goes ahead there are several chapters which are going to spell some dire consequences for healthcare in New Zealand (and elsewhere). The first thing for New Zealanders to worry about as far as the health system goes is Pharmac. This is the government puchasing agency that because of its bulk buying capacity can negotiate really good deals so that we the consumer get cheaper medications. In doing so, Pharmac saves $30 million plus per year which pay for other health tests, procedures, services. Yes, Pharmac makes unpopular decisions sometimes because its budget doesn’t allow for subsidised access to some of the most expensive pharmaceuticals, and yes there is much that could be done to improve Pharmac. But that doesn’t change the fact that it is highly regarded and admired worldwide and keeps a tight rein on the cost to the country of pharmaceuticals. Hence the Pharmaceutical Industry would like to see Pharmac wither.

Big Pharma, with their bottomless pockets and high-pressure tactics, have put billions into lobbying on TPPA and are well represented in the 600 corporate advisers who have access to the negotiations. Bear in mind the people who are supposed to be represented by the negotiators (us) get no access and no information from our politicians. Most of what we know about the TPPA has been leaked. The Intellectual Property chapter was leaked and suggests patent life will be extended, meaning continued higher prices for pharmaceuticals, music, text books, movies etc. It also aims to cover medical procedures with patents, so the cost of healthcare will skyrocket. For the country, of course, but also for individuals. Expect to see more of those shortening waiting lists because people are being tipped off them “you don’t need a hip replacement anymore, we can’t afford it.” And for people in countries whose access to life-saving medications is already limited…

But that is by no means the TPPA’s only effect on public health. Have you heard about the Australian government being taken to court by Philip Morris Asia (tobacco) for plain packaging of cigarettes? This is possible because of what they call ‘Investor-State Dispute Settlement’ (ISDS) clauses in ‘Free Trade Agreements.’  This means a government can be sued in a secret offshore tribunal which is adjudicated by three lawyers whose day-jobs are working for transnationals (this is no joke!) if the complainant feels their future expected profits are going to be hurt by government legislation, such as plain packaging of cigarettes. No matter that this is a public health issue. No matter that smoking causes the country untold millions in health costs and deaths every year. And no, the government doesn’t have the same right to sue investors for costs such as these incurred by the state. We pay for those in our taxes and if the suing companies win, we pay their costs and reparations out of our taxes as well. Sound unbelievable? It’s happening all over the world right now. Funnily enough, Australia are staunchly rejecting the ISDS clause in the TPPA. These “arbitrary government actions” are known in Free Trade-land as ‘behind the border trade impediments’ and cover all aspects of life where a transnational corporation wants to sell you something. Regulations on sugary drinks? Forget it. Fast food? Haha! Environmental protection? Not if someone intends to drill, frack, mine, dredge or discharge.

So our impending diabetes epidemic will definitely be helped along by the TPPA, and when we need dialysis and transplants, we’ll have to pay for that through our noses, wishing we’d smelt the rat in the first place.

To find out more about the TPPA and its effects on health, visit 



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