One of the very few alleged “checks and balances”
in the Overseas Investment Act is the requirement that the persons owning
and/or controlling the applicant transnational corporation be “of good
character”. Note that this only applies to individuals, not to the corporations
The Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa
(CAFCA) has been making “not of good character” complaints to the Overseas
Investment Office (OIO) and its predecessor, the Overseas Investment Commission
(OIC), since the late 1990s. It’s a long story. Here’s the link to articles
about the subject on the Websites of CAFCA and Foreign Control Watchdog
one of our complaints has ever been even partly upheld – until now.
On December 8th, 2016, I wrote to the OIO: “In light of the New York Stock Exchange
delisting Agria, we request that you investigate whether the people owning
and/or controlling Agria are of good character, and whether they should be
allowed to continue own and/or control PGG Wrightson. ‘Agria says it will fight New York Stock Exchange delisting’ This is a quote from a New Zealand Herald article reporting the same
thing: ‘The Exchange said it had uncovered evidence demonstrating that the
company and its management engaged in operations ‘contrary to the public
interest’ and not in keeping with sound public policy pursuant to requirement
of Exchange's Listed Company Manual’”.
Unlike when making an Official Information Act
request to the OIO (or any other Government agency) there is no time limit that
the OIO has to meet to answer a “not of good character” complaint. To this day, the OIO has not given CAFCA
its decision about our Agria complaint.
But, right before Christmas (when news of this
nature is traditionally, and quietly, released) the OIO included this in its
cutely titled newsletter The PeriOIOdical
investigation into Agria”
OIO has investigated the good character of Agria Singapore and former PGG
Wrightson Chair Alan Lai in relation to Agria’s shareholding in PGG Wrightson”.
Agria and Mr Lai have co-operated with the OIO investigation, following the
United States Securities and Exchange Commission’s investigation”.
“The OIO, Agria and Mr Lai have reached a
settlement agreement which required Agria to sell down below its 50.2 percent
interest in PGG Wrightson (which it has now done in compliance with the
agreement) and provided for penalty proceedings to be filed in the High Court”.
acknowledgement of CAFCA’s role and the OIO hasn’t bothered to tell us but
we’ll take the credit and chalk it up as a first. More please. The
whole subject of “good character” is one that needs to be front and centre in
the Government’s stage 2 review of the Overseas Investment Act, which is being
undertaken this year.
These latest revelations about a
whole raft of Government agencies contracting Thompson & Clark to spy on
New Zealanders on their behalf are just the latest in a long, sordid history of
the State spying on the people. Go back a decade and you’ll find:
Thompson & Clark exposed
as spying on environmental activists on behalf of the since gone bust Solid
Thompson & Clark exposed
as spying on animal rights activists on behalf of the State
provocateur Rob Gilchrist exposed as having spied, for money, on a whole raft
of activist groups for a decade
The release of Security
Intelligence Service files on many people (including me) that revealed a long
history of obsessive spying on activists. In the case of the only organisation
to receive its file – the Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa – the
file revealed that the SIS had spied on CAFCA for a quarter of a century.
The State, in the form of the
Police and the SIS, has always spied on activists. I have been a political
activist for not quite 50 years and have documentary evidence that I’ve been
spied upon by both.
What is different about these
latest revelations is the State contracting out its spying to private
enterprise (thus providing itself with the all-important “plausible
Plus, the fact that spying net has now
been spread much wider than the usual suspects – Communists, protesters, activists,
unionists, “eco-terrorists”, etc – right down into the ranks of the Mum and Dad
homeowners who were unfortunate enough to be among the victims of the
Christchurch quakes and to have an unresolved claim with the singularly
unhelpful Southern Response. This is what happens when spies – authorised and
unauthorised/privatised – operate in a bubble of arrogance, secrecy and
impunity. First, they came for the activists; then they came for the insurance
But this stuff is only the tip of
the spyberg. It involves “humint” (human intelligence): infiltration,
surveillance, covert recording of meetings, that sort of thing. The vast bulk
of modern spying involves “elint” (electronic intelligence) and it is carried
out 24/7/365, silently and covertly monitoring all manner of communications. In
this country it is carried out by the Government Communications Security Bureau
(GCSB), whose key tool is the Waihopai spy base.
The GCSB and Waihopai is used not
only to spy on foreigners, as directed by the US National Security Agency (NSA)
as part of the Five Eyes spy alliance with the US, UK, Canada and Australia. It
is also used to spy on New Zealanders. When it was caught doing so illegally
(take a bow, Kim Dotcom), the Key government did not punish the criminals but
legalised the crime. Despite a massive campaign against it, the Key government
amended the GCSB Act to allow the Bureau to spy on New Zealanders.
That’s the bigger picture here.
Let’s have an inquiry into the whole covert world of State spying – the GCSB,
SIS, Police and the contractors such as Thompson and Clark – and the cloak of
anti-democratic impunity in which it operates.
In the meantime, Anti-Bases
Campaign, which has been campaigning on this issue since the 1980s, is doing
our small bit. We’ll be back at the Waihopai spy base on Saturday January 26th
calling for it to be closed and for the GCSB to be abolished.
Foreign Investment & Labour Government; TPPA;
Privatisation & Asset Sales; Donald Trump; Space Is The New Frontier For
Billionaires And Warmongers:Murray
Horton, Bill Rosenberg, Linda Hill, Dennis Small, Jeremy Agar, Mary-Ellen
O’Connor, Alistair Duncan
The Campaign Against
Foreign Control of Aotearoa (CAFCA) congratulates the Government for passing
the Overseas Investment Amendment Bill, which will become law within weeks. At
least New Zealand now has a Government that recognises that foreign control is
an issue. More than that, it recognises that it is a problem and has set out to
do something about it. What it intends to do, however, doesn’t amount to very
much. But it’s better than a big fat nothing, which is what the previous
National government did for nine long years.
The “something” which this Government is
doing doesn’t amount to much – some restrictions on foreigners buying
residential houses, which was always the least consequential aspect of the
issue (and those restrictions have since been watered down). More
substantively, some restrictions on foreigners buying farmland, which is a long
overdue response to an issue that outrages New Zealanders right across the full
spectrum of society.
Once again, there are
all sorts of loopholes and exemptions – the entire forestry sector, which is a
huge feature of land sales to foreigners; water bottling export plants; luxury
golf resorts; prime real estate sold to millionaires and billionaires for bolt
holes. And of the biggest feature of the whole foreign control issue – namely
transnational corporations hoovering up local businesses and the wholesale
dominance of whole sectors of the economy by transnationals – well, this
“transformative” Government has neither said nor done a thing.
Some context is
necessary. CAFCA's Key Facts
- all taken from official sources - prove that from 1989 until 2017 - through cycles of
Labour and National governments; under Prime Ministers Lange, Palmer, Moore,
Bolger, Shipley, Clark, Key and English; under both FPP and MMP electoral
systems: foreign control
of the New Zealand economy increased 653%. That’s a sobering
Nothing much has
changed under Prime MInister Ardern (or temporary PM Peters). It’s very much
business as usual. Indeed, one of this Government's very first
actions was to back flip on the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement
(TPPA) and sign NZ up to a deal that entrenches and extends the domination
of the NZ economy by transnationals.
has always said, what we’re experiencing is recolonisation but by company
rather than country. This Government is simply ameliorating some of the most
visible and egregious effects but otherwise actively facilitating the process.
As the old saying goes – don’t expect much and you won’t be disappointed.
The TPPA is dead - what next?
The United States has now formally pulled out the TPPA, killing the
The TPPA as we know it might be dead, but the ideas it was based on and the
powerful interests behind them are not. There is no doubt that threats
similar to the TPPA will emerge in the coming months and years.
Petition against a Zombie
On 14-15 March 2017 the New Zealand Trade Minister Todd McClay is meeting with
the remaining TPPA countries in an attempt to revive the agreement.
It’s Our Future and
our friends at Action Station have prepared petition telling Minister McClay
that we don’t want any sort of zombie TPPA. Please add your name here and share
More information on the upcoming Chile ministerial meeting the risks of a
zombie TPPA are set out later on in this bulletin.
Contents of this Bulletin
Now that the TPPA has fallen apart their are a number of possibilites about how
the TPPA governments and the corporate lobbyists that back them will reorganise
themselves. There is also an important question about how China — the
United States’ main rival for influence in the Asia-Pacific region — will
respond to the death of the agreement.
There has been a lot going on in the last couple months, on many different
fronts. So you don’t have to wade through all of it if you don’t have the
time, here’s a quick list of the topics covered:
The possibility of some sort of
zombie TPPA going ahead without the United States and why this is a bad
Donald Trump’s hint at a
one-on-one trade agreement with New Zealand;
New negotiations for an
expanded agreement with China;
An introduction and update on
both the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (or “RCEP”, a set of
trade negotiations led by China);
An introduction and update on
the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA); and — most importantly —
What you can do to stop our
Government getting New Zealand tangled-up in another mess like the TPPA.
TPPA without the United
There is talk from the remaining TPPA countries about continuing with the
agreement without the United States, particularly from Australia. The New
Prime Minister, Bill English, has also indicated that he would like to pursue
this possibility, first in a press conference and more recently in a prepared statement following a meeting with
the Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
Trade Ministers from all the TPPA countries except the United States are due to attend a meeting in Chile on 14-15 March 2017
in an attempt to resusitate some, or all, of the TPPA.
It’s concerning that the New Zealand government still hasn’t got the message
that the TPPA was a bad idea and that New Zealanders don’t want it.
Without the United States, the TPPA is an even worse idea.
The whole point of the TPPA for New Zealand, according to its
backers, was to gain access to heavily protected US markets. The
motivation of the United States, on the other hand, was to freeze or rewrite
the rules of New Zealand and the other TPPA countries to better suit the interests
of its corporations.
New Zealand got a bad deal in the TPPA. The economic benefits that we
would potentially have gained were marginal, and the costs to the New Zealand
public and our natural environment would have been enormous.
It makes no sense for the National-led government to now consider chaining New
Zealand to a set of rules written to meet the needs of corporate America without
gaining anything in return.
As Professor Kelsey has written (also well-reported on RNZ):
The economic modelling the
government relied on to sell the TPPA last year had zero credibility and failed
to account for the costs. Take the US out of that equation and any attempt to
pitch the agreement as having net benefits to New Zealand is risible.
Similarly, former IOF co-ordinator, and current Green Party MP Barry Coates has
also put it well in a recent blog post:
Most of the very small economic gains to New Zealand from
the TPPA were going to come from trade with the USA, and these benefits were
offset by the economic costs of the deal. The economics were never worth the
risks of being sued by multinationals, the loss of government powers to
regulate business, the threats to the environment and human rights, and the
loss of our sovereignty. A TPPA without the USA makes even less sense.
The TPPA contains rules
that are specifically there because the USA insisted on them. For example, new
rules on issues like patents and copyright are not good for New Zealand, but we
were told we’d have to accept them as the cost of getting greater access to
American markets for our agricultural exports. Without the USA on board, we
face all the costs of these patent and copyright rules, but none of the
supposed benefits we were supposed to get in return.
Much of the TPPA text was
drawn from the US template. Updating it for a new deal without the USA would be
in the interests of the US, but not in our interests. We’d be better off
starting from scratch and developing a new type of fair and sustainable trade
Finally, even conservative commentator Patrick Smellie has written a scathing
opinion piece (entitled “Enough already on the TPPA”) on Stuff.co.nz where
he rightly asks:
[W]hy our Government would
allow the political agenda in the first serious week back at work to be
dominated by a zombie trade deal. Why would Bill English, so early in the
process of stamping his identity on the prime ministership, give all that
air-time to reminding a large swathe of the population that he supports a deal
that most New Zealanders had convinced themselves was not just a bad one, but a
symbol of everything they think is going wrong with the world?
The TPPA is dead. Let’s keep it that way. It’s Our Future and
Action Station have prepared a petition to Trade Minister Todd McClay reminding
him that New Zealanders didn’t want the TPPA in the first place and that we
will resist any half-baked zombie agreement, both in the streets and in the
with the United States?
When Donald Trump pulled the US out of the TPPA, he also directed that the US :
[D]eal directly with
individual countries on a one-on-one (or bilateral) basis in negotiating future
trade deals … [and to enter into] wherever possible, bilateral trade
negotiations to promote American industry, protect American workers, and raise
Trump’s top trade advisor Peter Navarro has also been clear that he intends to maintain US
influence in the Asia Pacific region by negotiating one-on-one trade agreements
with the TPPA countries, mentioning New Zealand by name.
Over the last 30 years New Zealand has been a strong supporter of multilateral
(big group) or plurilateral (small group) trade negotiations — the idea being
that, as a small country, we have very little bargaining power and are better
off working in a rules-based system alongside lots of other countries.
With so little to work with, a bilateral (one-on-one) trade agreement between
New Zealand and the United States would be a disaster. A bilateral trade
agreement negotiated under the Trump administration would be worse still.
So far, Trump has hinted that a condition for any trade deals under his watch
will require protections for the profits of big US
Pharmaceutical companies (i.e. goodbye PHARMAC) and may include a
clause allowing the US to pull out on 30 days notice if it thinks fit.
The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or “RCEP” is an agreement
being negotiated between the 10 ASEAN countries (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia,
Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam) and
Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea. Up to date
information on RCEP can be found here at the excellent www.bilaterals.org website.
Prior to the death of the TPPA, RCEP was viewed as a competing trade agreement
to shape trade in the Asia-Pacific region away from US influence and towards
China. With the US out of the TPPA, it is unknown whether the RCEP
negotiations will speed up (to fill the void left by the TPPA) or go on the
backburner (because there is no longer any need to compete against the
TPPA). The next RCEP negotiating round is scheduled to be in Japan in
late February. For now at least, there appears to be little chance of RCEP negotiations being concluded in the
near future and no negotiating texts have yet been
Interestingly, China and South Korea — two of the major powers in the the RCEP
negotiations —have accepted invitations to attend the Chile ministerial meeting
with the TPPA parties. It is too early to draw any strong conclusions
from this, but it would appear that there is at a least a possibility of future
negotiations between the remaining TPPA countries and the RCEP grouping.
An updated trade
agreement with China
New Zealand and China have had a bilateral trade agreement in place since
2007. In November last year, the government announced that it was negotiating an expansion
of the agreement. Earlier this month both Foreign Minister Murray McCully
and Bill English met with the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi
to discuss: “the upgrade of the nations' bilateral free trade agreement,
China's possible involvement in what remains of the Trans-Pacific Partnership
(TPP) negotiations, and New Zealand's role in China's One Belt, One Road strategy”.
McCully announced afterwards that a series of negotiations would begin in the
near future. The scope and timeline of these negotiations are still under
Trade in Services Agreement
The Trade in Services Agreement (“TiSA”) is a proposed agreement to roll back
regulation of international trade in services. There are 23 countries
involved in the negotiations, the most significant being the EU (who negotiate
as a single bloc) and the US.
While TiSA is a narrower agreement than the TPPA (it doesn’t deal with border
tariffs on goods and it doesn’t include some of the worst parts of the TPPA
like Investor State Dispute Resolution) if it is agreed to, it will have a big
effect on New Zealand’s ability both to regulate in the public interest and to
support local organisations to provide service to the New Zealand public.
In a nutshell, the idea of TiSA is to make it easier for service providers
(such banks, insurance companies, internet service provider, freight companies
and healthcare providers) to sell their services to consumers in another
country. This would be done by stripping away regulations and other
practices which get in the way of corporate profits. This deregulation
would then by locked in by the TiSA agreement so that future governments are
bound to protect corporate interests rather than the public good. One of
the areas which TiSA would have a huge impact on is the regulation of financial
services. Weak regulation of banks, finance companies and insurers brought
the global economy to its knees in the 2008 global financial crisis. Now,
after countless millions of public money has been spent bailing out
corporations that were “too big to fail”, the same corporate interests are
trying to lock in the same regulatory approach which led to the GFC. TiSA
would also have huge implications for the protection and storage of online
data, which has led to strong opposition from privacy watchdogs, particulary in the EU.
TiSA was rumoured to be close to completion in late 2016. However, with Trump
coming into power it appears that no more negotiating rounds will be held until
the new US position becomes clear. The most recent leaks (above) also
reveal that the negotiating countries are still a long way apart on some
Future campaign for a
progressive trade policy
With the immediate threat of the TPPA gone, we now have an opportunity to
reframe the discussion around trade away from corporate greed, unlimited growth
and ecological blindness towards a new economic system centred around the needs
of ordinary people and environmental protection.
In the lead-up to the New Zealand Parliamentary election, It’s Our Future will
be running a campaign pushing for future trade agreements which reflect a
different and more progressive set of values than what we have experienced for
the last 30 years.
We want to hear from
what an alternative model for international trade could look like, and / or
what values would underpin this. Please send your ideas
to email@example.com. We will share
these ideas back in upcoming bulletins and use them to develop a set of