if New Zealand were to ban the sale of the probable human carcinogenic herbicide Roundup, then under the TPPA investment rules, Monsanto appears able to sue our government for its loss of profits.
“Transparently corrupt behaviour.”

That was how one commentator described the process by which so-called “fast track” legislation passed with a slim majority through the US Senate last month. This was after the same legislation was blocked just weeks earlier by the same legislators.

The relevance of their fast track legislation is that it enables President Obama to complete negotiations for the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA).

New Zealand is a party to those TPPA negotiations and our need to free up trade in dairy and meat products to the US, makes this trade agreement vitally important to us.

What we do not need are the agreement’s investment resolution and intellectual property provisions. The consensus by independent observers of the TPPA, is that our environmental protections, health services and food safety laws will be perversely affected.

For example, if New Zealand were to ban the sale of the probable human carcinogenic herbicide Roundup, then under the TPPA investment rules, Monsanto appears able to sue our government for its loss of profits.

The TPPA is vitally important to the US because it reinforces their hold on revenues from intellectual property rights and from investments that US companies hold in international markets. This will come at a cost to US workers who will loose manufacturing jobs.

So for the US, as for us, there is a lot hanging on these negotiations and some people will do whatever it takes to get the outcome they want.

The corrupt charge refers to the way the turnaround in the fast track legislation occurred: cash contributions to campaign funds to benefit and therefore influence US Senators to vote a certain way.

The behaviour was transparent because US laws require the disclosure of political donations.

The Guardian newspaper analysed the individual donations and their timings. Their findings were interesting.

First, Republicans, who almost unanimously support free trade irregardless of the effect on workers, received 90% of the donations from corporates.

Second, of the five Democrats who changed their vote, and so enabled fast tracking, the three who received around half the donations are up for re-election next year.

It seems reasonable to conclude that some US Senators will change their vote to enhance their re-election chances. And it also appears that corporate America’s investment in getting desired TPPA outcomes will now pay a dividend.

Might this sort of influencing be happening in New Zealand?

It is not clear because our disclosure laws around political donations are not so easy to analyse.

Our most significant attempt at political influence through donations, occurred at last year’s elections in which Kim Dotcom donated $3.5 million to the Internet Party. Similarly, the Conservative Party received donations of nearly $3 million to get Colin Craig elected.

corruption perception indexI take comfort from the failure of Dotcom and Craig to buy seats in Parliament. But given that our laws do not limit political donations and that our disclosure requirements fall short of full transparency, I doubt that corporate money does not buy influence with politicians.

Scandals around the influence that right wing politicians John Banks and Judith Collins exerted, gives cause for concern. As does some of the decisions of this government – for example the recent ‘facilitation payment’ to a Saudi businessman to avoid the threat, or not, of legal action. Then there is Health Minister Jonathan Coleman’s inexplicable resistance to a sugar tax to reduce child obesity.

Before 2014, New Zealand ranked #1 (i.e. least corrupt) in Transparency International’s Corrupt Perception Index. We now rank #2 – how low will New Zealand go?