Report – By Craig Robertson of Te Waha Nui
Auckland law professor Dr Jane Kelsey has condemned the secrecy over the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) at a weekend rally against the draft deal – one of 16 across New Zealand.
“Is the leaked text what is currently on the table? Well, I can’t answer that because it’s secret,” said Professor Kelsey, a law lecturer at the University of Auckland and a leading anti-TPPA authority and campaigner.
Thousands rallied in towns and cities across the country on Saturday to protest against the TPPA.
The TPPA is a free-trade deal being negotiated between 12 countries including New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and the United States.
Protesters raised their concerns about the secrecy of the agreement, which has been negotiated behind closed doors over the past four years, and the potential effects it may have on New Zealand’s interests.
“New Zealand shouldn’t be signing up to secret agreements,” says Edward Miller, one of the national organisers for the TPPA rallies and spokesperson for It’s Our Future.
He says that many New Zealanders do not trust that the National government’s position.
“We’ve been told that we’re supposed to trust Minister Groser and the rest of the negotiating team in ensuring that they get the best deal for us. But trust is a two-way street. We’ve been so far away from the negotiating table that we’ve had to fight as much as we possibly can just to get scraps of information from any backdoor source.”
A small number of TPPA documents have been released by WikiLeaks, but it is unclear whether those documents represent what will be in the final agreement.
The lack of information about the negotiations has been a core issue for those opposed to the TPPA.
But pro-TPPA commentators such as Stephen Hoadley, associate professor of politics at the University of Auckland, say that confidentiality is standard practice in free trade negotiations.
“It is the normal diplomatic way. And Tim Groser has spelled this out and justified it in public, saying if you don’t negotiate confidentially, then nobody is going to negotiate with you.”
Minister of Trade Tim Groser said earlier this year that secrecy in negotiations was normal and that those opposing the TPPA only wished to see the text of the agreement so they could “blow it apart”.
Protesters at the TPPA rally on Saturday raised concerns over Pharmac, genetically modified food, environmental protections, and the risk posed by investor-state dispute settlement provisions to the government’s ability to pass laws.
Such provisions would allow investors to sue the government in international courts, as in Australia where challenges were made to cigarette plain-packaging laws.
Says Miller: “[The terms of the TPPA] could mean that public health measures, anti-smoking measures such as plain packaging, tobacco legislation, environmental measures, limits on things like mining, drilling, fracking…all these things are touched on potentially by investor-state dispute settlement. And the core of it puts the investors’ rights to profit ahead of people’s right to determine their own democratic future.”
Professor Hoadley says that any suits by foreign corporations would be unlikely and that New Zealand’s ability to pass laws would not be inhibited because of an international treaty.
He says he trusts the word of Minister of Trade Tim Groser.
“If Tim Groser is to be believed, and I think he is to be believed, we’re not going to budge on Pharmac, we’re not going to budge on genetically modified organisms, and we’re going to be very stiff on investor ability to sue the government.”
A final agreement date for the TPPA has not been set, meaning negotiations could continue beyond this year’s election.