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Petition Seeking Transparency and Debate on TPP Negotiations

Press Release – Professor Jane Kelsey

A petition signed on behalf of sixteen major New Zealand organisations [1] seeking greater transparency in the current negotiations for a Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement has been received by Hon Maryan Street, Foreign Affairs and Trade Spokesperson …Press Release
From Jane Kelsey

Petition Seeking Transparency and Debate on
Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement negotiations

A petition signed on behalf of sixteen major New Zealand organisations [1] seeking greater transparency in the current negotiations for a Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement has been received by Hon Maryan Street, Foreign Affairs and Trade Spokesperson for the Labour Opposition, and supported by the Green Party.

The Trans-Pacific FTA is potentially the most far-reaching international treaty a New Zealand government has negotiated. There is an obligation on its proponents to justify imposing severe constraints on what future democratically elected governments can do.

Repeated requests to release negotiating documents and draft texts have been made of TPPA negotiating parties individually and collectively. The peak union bodies from Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and the United States wrote to all the parties at the time of the first round of negotiations in March 2010 with a number of transparency proposals that would have generated informed debate on the TPPA. Union bodies from Australia, Chile, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and the US sent further letter to the Trade Ministers of all negotiating parties in May 2010 with more detailed transparency proposals. In February 2011, letters endorsed by civil society organisations from Australia, Chile, New Zealand, Malaysia and the US who collectively represent millions of people, were handed to the heads of delegation negotiators of each party. In New Zealand, that letter was signed by over 850 organisations and individuals and sent to both the Prime Minister and Minister of Trade Tim Groser.

Those calls have gone unanswered. Indeed, even the formal ‘stakeholder’ events at the recent Singapore negotiations were more restricted than previous rounds. This retreat may reflect a concern by the parties that an agreement might not be concluded if the texts were exposed to scrutiny and debate. One industry advocate indicated as much at the ‘stakeholders’ press conference at the Auckland round of negotiations in December 2010. That reasoning is perverse – the fact that informed debate based on detailed analysis of draft texts has resulted in failure of some negotiations confirms the value of disclosure in identifying problems that would otherwise go unremarked until it the agreement was signed.

The petition calls on Parliament to seize itself of this matter and proposes a number of specific initiatives to enhance transparency in the TPPA negotiations.

Unilateral release of New Zealand documents

First, it seeks a parliamentary resolution that requires the New Zealand government to follow its own prior practice and unilaterally release the documents that it has tabled in the negotiations, including draft texts and offers of commitments in services, investment, government procurement, and market access for goods. It should then call for submissions on those documents.

Parliamentary resolution seeking release of TPPA texts

The petition seeks a parliamentary resolution that the New Zealand government should take the lead in securing agreement of the other negotiating parties to the release of draft texts and other documents and create a virtual public space that can provide equal access to information and generate dialogue and debate. This would make the TPPA process a negotiation fit for the 21st century, building on the practice adopted in plurilateral free trade and investment agreements over the past decade.

Select Committee hearing on the TPPA

The select committee with responsibility for parliamentary oversight of trade agreements is the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee. According to the Parliamentary website, in February 2011 the Committee initiated a briefing from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade on the process for ratification and accession of International treaties with a focus on bilateral and multilateral treaties requiring new or amending legislation. However, no information is available on that briefing and no submissions were sought from others with an interest in the matter.

The Committee has the power under Standing Order 185(2) to inquire into any matter within its subject area. It should do so as a matter of urgency, whether or not the government releases documentation. While submissions would be more informed with access to draft texts and negotiating documents, sufficient is known about the proposed content of the negotiations to make this a valuable initiative to encourage democratic debate and inform Parliament and the general public of the issues at stake.
12 April 2011

[1] The petition is in the name of Robert Reid, General Secretary of the National Distribution Union and endorsed by the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions, FinSec, Maritime Union of New Zealand, New Zealand Tertiary Education Union, Unite Union, Oxfam NZ, NZRise, the Society of Authors, the Public Health Association of New Zealand, the Fabian Society, Global Peace and Justice Auckland, Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa, New Zealand Not for Sale, Auckland Latin American Community Inc, and the Soil and Health Association of NZ.

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