Unfair Trade: Protectionism, Protests and the Pursuit of Free Trade in New Zealand

  • Sasha Maher
Keywords: Free trade, neoliberalism, New Zealand, business, elites


Is free trade dead? In January 2017, President Trump withdrew the United States from the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement (TPP). This paper examines some of the anthropological implications of what emerged out of the “death” of the TPP. It analyses what this reveals about the changing contours of the neoliberal state, business-government relations and the subjectivity of corporate leaders. More broadly, it seeks to explain the tenacity of free trade and what is at stake in pursuing free trade agreements such as the TPP. Drawing on fieldwork among state and business elites in New Zealand, the paper suggests that rather than rethink its policy direction, the state deployed discursive strategies and elicited the help of business to reposition free trade as the solution, not the cause that eventually “killed” the TPP. Thus, rather than undermine neoliberalism, the demise of the TPP opened the possibility of its advancement.


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