TPP protests show confusion over deal

7:34 pm on 5 February 2016

Power Play - Reasons people gave for attending yesterday's protests against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) highlighted the fear and lack of understanding about the deal.

Protesters march down Queen Street

Protesters march down Queen Street Photo: RNZ / Mohamed Hassan

As Pacific rim trade ministers met at Auckland's SkyCity for the signing of the 12-nation pact, people gathered in the streets of the city and other centres to show their opposition.

They carried placards, chanted, blocked streets and motorway on-ramps and no one could doubt their conviction - they were passionate and resolute.

Watch coverage by RNZ's John Campbell on the TPP protests in Auckland:

Many of their comments to John Campbell during RNZ's live coverage of the protests illustrated just how fearful, angry but also confused they were about the deal.

One said she was upset about the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions, because she thought that would mean the New Zealand Parliament would not be able to pass laws in the future.

Another decried what she argued was the fact that New Zealand would lose control over its environment.

Many told RNZ that New Zealand was being sold from under their feet and that they feared the country would have no control over who came in and bought the land.

Prime Minister John Key was quick to dismiss the protesters as 'rent-a-crowd' and while there were some familiar faces there, his comments were probably not altogether fair.

Many of the protesters were not entirely clear about their reasons for opposing the deal, and for anyone who knows the detail of the agreement the reasoning in some cases was misinformed.

But whose fault is that?

Ministers, including the Prime Minister, have possibly not explained the deal in a way that most New Zealanders could understand.

Having the deal negotiated behind closed doors has not helped matters, but the detail of most trade deals is kept relatively secret until they are settled, and given the size and importance of the TPP, there was very little chance of an open negotiation.

The fears raised by protesters over corporations being able to sue the New Zealand government are not unfounded, as the ISDS provisions do allow a corporation to take legal action against a foreign government for introducing legislation that harms their investment.

But protesters may or may not know that these provisions have been in numerous trade deals that New Zealand has signed over the past 20 years.

Though obviously the inclusion of one of the most litigious countries in the world, the United States, has added weight to their arguments.

There have been sharp criticisms coming from all sides around the TPP, not only of the deal itself, but of the analysis, the objections and also the coverage.

As with any deal of this size and importance, many parts of it are open to interpretation and what it will mean in practice remains to be seen.

But what is clear is that in the time between yesterday's signing and the ratification of the deal, a much better public awareness campaign is needed, because an information void is often filled with fear and misunderstanding.

TPPA rally in Wellington

TPPA rally in Wellington Photo: RNZ / Michael Cropp