Penny Tucker: “Dear TPP … a reflection on the agreement and Jane Kelsey”

Dear TPP

Welcome to New Zealand – I hope you jump the final hurdles.

Those of us who have a positive approach to global commercial and cultural interaction, to sowing the seeds of free trade and economic empowerment, and who understand that, when the world doesn’t work in silos, it works better and us Kiwis actually get to work……..well, we’re really relieved you came through.

Unfortunately, the red carpet reception you deserve might have a few creases in it. I am sorry about that. It’s largely because of one individual. When I started in the Foreign Ministry over twenty years ago, my first job as a junior officer was to respond to Jane Kelsey’s OIA requests on APEC. According to Jane, that consensus based and glacially slow organisation, dedicated to building bridges around and across the Pacific, was (holy conspiracy theory Batman!) a surreptitious plot to, um, support capitalism.

Jane flew around the world predicting doom and disaster and journalists printed her gibbering. God forbid that people leave their quarries of poverty and embedded economic servitude to actually have choices and haul themselves up into a growing global middle-class. Yep…….it appeared that the impoverished had their own anti-free trade,  evangelist, swooping in to try and suck the lifeblood out of efforts to empower people with openness and opportunity.

Meanwhile, I pulled diplomatic cables out of files in the basement of MFAT’s then home, Stafford House, while silently cursing lazy media automatons who lapped up the views of a person whose carbon footprint (size 747) made Bigfoot look like a rank amateur and whose clearly biased views represented a triumph of the easy soundbite over intellectual integrity.

Fast forward a decade and a bit. Because then, TPP, you came along. Much to the relief of Jane’s air-points account as it was getting a bit tricky to persuade people that APEC was evil. But TPP!! How dare New Zealand try to secure its economic future by participating in one of the most ambitious and far-reaching trade agreements ever designed?

The internet leads me to believe that Mike Moore, Phil Goff, Lockwood Smith and Tim Groser must be hideous people to have all been so influential in building the context for this agreement to happen. Google tells me that the process has been opaque – “release the texts” has been the catchphrase. Yet, therein lies the irony.

If Jane had been genuinely keen to have a dialogue, to analyse and to truly influence the process, she could have done so. Instead, as I attended TPP meeting after TPP meeting in a private sector capacity, I watched her again and again prove herself to be ideologically blinkered in a not merely mischievous fashion, steadfastly partisan and a shameless headline hound, defying the titular status of a true “academic.”

She is a big part of the reason that information had to be so closely protected.

You cannot actually engage someone who is hardwired to enrage over engage and sadly the rest of us paid the price for that.

So, here’s the funny thing, TPP. There have been valid concerns about your reach, repercussions and result. You might not be as good as you could have been (in a different time and a different place). I have no inside knowledge about your structure as I gave up my direct involvement with you when I moved away from New Zealand, but I do have faith in your architects because I have seen the incredible things they have achieved both singularly and collectively. I’m relieved that your biggest Kiwi detractor chose diatribe over dialogue and so proved herself absolutely irrelevant (if not slightly irritating). What a relief that we get to welcome you as she strives to find another cause.

You, TPP, are an epic win. You, Jane Kelsey, have epically failed. Your anti-trade antics are merely a fading carbon emission drifting off into an atmosphere of inconsequence. And it should be that way.

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