Students find voice on trade agreement

Students and activists march on the University of Otago campus yesterday in protest against the...
Students and activists march on the University of Otago campus yesterday in protest against the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement. Photos by Stephen Jaquiery & Peter McIntosh.
Student advocate Mark Baxter addresses the protesters.
Student advocate Mark Baxter addresses the protesters.

About 80 students and activists marched against the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) on the University of Otago campus yesterday, just as trade minister Tim Groser prepared to close the deal in the United States.

''Given ... the deciding meeting that's on right now, [we thought] we should have a really strong student voice within the movement,'' University of Otago second-year history student Tyler West, who organised the protest, said.

''I think it was missing before. There wasn't much of a student voice.''

Critics of the TPPA say the massive trade agreement will have wide-reaching implications for everything from intellectual property to Pharmac to the New Zealand Government's control over its own laws.

Proponents of the agreement say it will open up the playing field for New Zealand dairy exports worldwide and provide a massive economic boost to the economy.

But Mr Groser and Prime Minister John Key have played down expectations for the TPPA in recent weeks, with Mr Key saying the deal would be ''the very best we can do''.

At yesterday's anti-TPPA protest, former student activist and now-student advocate at the Otago Polytechnic Students' Association Mark Baxter opened with a speech that harkened back to his student days.

''The last time I spoke here, we went over and occupied the registry building - just saying,'' he said, eliciting a flurry of cheers and laughter from the crowd.

The TPPA, he said, would be ''locking the country into right-wing policies, policies students continue to suffer under''.

Fourth-year student Lucy Reid said she came to the protest because ''the TPPA is a threat to our sovereignty as a country, and I reject the increasing role of corporations in New Zealand society''.

''It's important to target student demographics, especially because students are seen as so apathetic,'' she said.

''We're the ones it's going to affect in the future.''

Tertiary Education Union organiser Shaun Scott said the protest was ''an opportunity to continue to forge positive links with students.

Following a series of speeches and performances in front of the Otago University Students' Association (OUSA), protesters marched to the university's clocktower building.

Neither current OUSA president Paul Hunt nor president-elect Laura Harris attended the protest.

Mr Hunt said he did not go because he supported the TPPA.

''The TPPA could provide significant benefits to developing economies and provide New Zealand firms access to new export markets,'' he said.

Ms Harris, who ran her campaign on more student engagement and promised to organise more political campaigns and protests, said she would have liked to go to the protest, but did not know about it.

She had been ''very busy'' with the campaign this week, she said.

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