There are many ways that rules in “free trade” agreements can have a negative effect on hauora, from tobacco and alcohol policy, to affordable medicines, to private hospitals and health care, and migrant health workers. These rules have never been about recognising our rangatiratanga or protecting the oranga of te iwi Māori.

The health sector is big business: Big Pharma’s monopoly rights on medicines that blow Pharmac’s budget; Big Tech’s control over health data; private health insurers and rest home chains. Big business is also bad for health – tobacco, alcohol, fast foods, as well as big polluters and those that fuel the climate crisis. Others erode our kaitiaki responsibilities over taonga and claim rights over rongoā. While they profit from the harm they cause, they also squeeze out Indigenous voices and holistic practices of taha tinana, taha hinengaro, taha wairua and taha whānau.

“Free trade” agreements make life much easier and more profitable for those businesses – mainly those powerful transnational corporations. The intellectual property rules allow Big Pharma to profiteer – a major issue during Covid 19 – and have implications for rongoā, a major issue in Wai 262. Rights of Big Tech companies over Māori health data was a major issue in the Wai 2522 Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPPA) claim. Trade in services agreements support the global expansion of transnational health insurers, private radiology, hospital chains and telemedicine by restricting government policy and regulations that get in their way.

New “transparency” rules guarantee foreign firms, like big polluters and greenhouse gas emitters, a say over proposed new laws, contradicting moves to rein them in. Moves to rein in alcohol abuse and fast food have fallen foul of food labelling and distribution standards. Even moves to ban high-fat mutton flaps and turkey tails by Pacific Islands met threats of trade action by countries including New Zealand.

Mining companies are major users of Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) process, which allows them to sue a government directly if new laws or even tribunal decisions would significantly affect the value of their investment or profits. These investor-state disputes are heard by pro-investor offshore tribunals that can award hundreds of millions of dollars compensation for lost future profits. In 2022, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that fossil fuel companies can use ISDS to block climate action. Philip Morris did that with Uruguay and Australia over plain packaging tobacco and threatened to do the same in Aotearoa; but even when they lose, they win by deterring others. The Labour government has said no to ISDS in future trade agreements, but that’s just policy not law, and doesn’t remove it from existing agreements.