New Zealanders are being left in the dark over the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) negotiations says a concerned group of organisations.
Robert Reid, National Distribution Union [NDU] general secretary says, “Everything is being done in secret and the government is not even allowing it to be debated in a select committee.”
Mr Reid is one of 13 signatories to a petition to the government requesting a select committee hearing on the implications of the proposed TPPA.
Other signatories include the Council of Trade Unions (NZCTU) and individual unions, Oxfam, Public Health Association, Society of Authors, ICT group NZ Rise, and the Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa.
TPPA is an Asia-Pacific regional trade agreement currently being negotiated between New Zealand and eight other partners – United States, Australia, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Chile, Brunei and Peru.
The Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade select committee only agreed that the first signatory, NZCTU President Helen Kelly, could present additional written information.
Ms Kelly said, "What we wanted was to have a debate in parliament through a select committee which is an open process about what our concerns are. Even the select committee won’t know what’s going on in the negotiations.”
She said a parliamentary forum was needed to talk about things like pharmac, intellectual property and public services.
“This is like the government passing a law without talking to anybody about it. It will bind this parliament, future parliaments and future generations,” says Ms Kelly.
Mr Reid says that while one could only guess the content of the TPPA, under the investor status part of the agreement, it appeared that members of the agreement would have the right to sue if a country passes laws or makes regulations that affected the profitability of a multinational company.
Lack of democratic process disappointing
The TPPA negotiations should be carried out with more transparency, said John Stansfield, campaign director for Oxfam.
“It’s going to be used by U.S. pharmaceutical industry as a way of preventing people from having access to cheap medicine," he said.
“We are disappointed that the government elected not to send the matter to a public hearing at a select committee where all of the voices could be brought to bear and there could be some real public debate about what are the actual benefits.”
Maggie Tarver, the New Zealand Society of Writers’ chief executive, also deplores the lack of democratic process and was concerned that no information would be released until the deal was done.
She is worried about U.S. proposals to replace New Zealand’s fair trading laws with fair use practices which are wider and non-specific.
“It is common knowledge that there are a large number of cases in America that actually do go to the courts to determine whether the use of somebody’s copyrighted material was fair use or not,” says Ms Tarver. “So we actually think that the fair dealing, which is what we have here, is far better than fair use.
“Culturally we have concerns about it as well, because there are other restrictions with regards to how we can favour New Zealand writers (and) film producers in New Zealand, if the fair dealing comes in…
“We feel strongly that the only people that will gain out of a TPPA with Americans are the Americans,” says Ms Tarver.
Professor Jane Kelsey, Associate Dean at Auckland University’s Law School, says the TPPA talks are being conducted behind closed doors to avoid criticism.
Professor Kelsey is a well-known critical New Zealand commentator on issues of globalisation, structural adjustment and decolonisation.
“They (National-led government) are on very shallow ground in being able to show any positive commercial outcomes and are aware that a TPPA would impact on many more sensitive areas of regulation and policy than the current discussion centred on Pharmac.
“Pressure not to make concessions in those areas will make it too hard to conduct the negotiations. Hence, the secrecy,” Ms Kelsey said.
A human rights impact assessment prepared by Ms Kelsey and university staff in May, predicted that the agreement would introduce “’investor-state dispute resolution’ allowing corporations to sue the government, weakening of the Pharmac regime and challenges to GE food labelling laws, amongst other things.”
John Hayes, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade select committee could not be reached for comment.