Opponents rally against Pacific-wide free trade pact talks in New Zealand

Xinhua | 2012-12-3

Opponents rally against Pacific-wide free trade pact talks in New Zealand

By Agencies

An international network of critics was gearing up Monday for more than a week of events opposing the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade talks as delegates from the 11 participating nations began the 15th round of negotiations behind closed doors in New Zealand.

The TPP, which is being negotiated in secret, drew criticism from a range of groups who fear the talks are being pushed by the United States and multi-national corporations to enforce tough new copyright and patent laws as well as "investor-state" relations clauses that will curb the ability of sovereign governments to pass laws in a number of fields such as labor, the environment and healthcare.

The opposition Green Party on Monday urged the New Zealand government to lift restrictions on access to the TPP negotiations immediately.

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman said more than 20 international experts in public health, intellectual property, investment, labor, consumer rights and other issues had been denied access to Auckland’s Sky City Convention Centre, where they talks are taking place, for all 10 days except for the stakeholder day on Friday.

"The current restrictions put in place by the New Zealand government confirm suspicions that the TPP negotiations are inherently anti-democratic," Norman said in a statement.

The TPP would open up New Zealand governments, now and in the future, to litigation through the inclusion of investor state disputes clauses.

"These clauses mean New Zealand can be sued in international tribunals for making public policy decisions that may affect multi- national corporations from other countries in the TPP talks," said Norman.

Auckland University Professor of Law Jane Kelsey, one of the experts locked out of the venue Monday, said the Auckland round of negotiations was proving to be the most secretive TPP talks yet.

"It is patently obvious that our government is actively attempting to block us from having private interactions with negotiators who have their own concerns or want more information in areas they lack expertise, or are simply polite enough to respond to requests for meetings," Kelsey said in a statement.

The Fair Deal Coalition of groups dedicated to preventing changes to New Zealand copyright laws announced Monday that new international members had joined - the Australian Digital Alliance, the Open Source Industry of Australia, Chile’s ONG Derechos Digitales and Consumer International.

"We want to draw public attention to how the TPP might actually cost New Zealand by erecting barriers to trade," Fair Deal spokesperson Susan Chalmers said in a statement.

Launched in July, it represented librarians, IT companies, open source societies, telecommunications users, the Internet community, digital rights activists, blind and visually impaired people, artists, consumers, and schools and universities.

"Participating countries are being asked to sacrifice their national sovereignty in important areas like access to knowledge online. Worst of all, these sacrifices are being negotiated behind closed doors, in the knowledge that the public would never accept them if they knew what was going on," Jeremy Malcolm, of Consumer International, said in the statement.

The ItsOurFuture website Monday released a schedule of events to protest against the proposed TPP agreement, including a public rally in Wellington on Tuesday and a march in Auckland Saturday with the presentation of an anti-TPP petition, culminating with a demonstration outside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Wellington on Dec. 12 to mark the close of the round.

Radio New Zealand reported that the 500 delegates were under pressure to reach an agreement after US President Barack Obama last month named October next year as the deadline for a completed deal.

Trade Minister Tim Groser told Radio New Zealand that the US now had to lay its cards on the table on market access for New Zealand dairy exports.

New Zealand’s special agricultural envoy Alistair Polson said nothing short of total elimination of tariffs on exports to the United States would suffice, according to the report.

But Lori Wallach, of trade watchdog Public Citizen, told the station that even if US negotiators agreed, any deal could be derailed by members of Congress beholden to powerful domestic dairy interests.

Over the weekend, activists from Canada, Mexico and the United States are unveiled a "tri-national unity statement" opposing the TPP at a meeting on the US-Canada border.

On Sunday, Kelsey released the results of a poll that showed most New Zealanders wanted the government to end the secrecy of the TPP negotiations.

The poll conducted in mid-November found that 65 percent of New Zealanders thought the government should make the contents of the agreement public before the negotiations were completed and the agreement was signed, while 14 percent did not mind if that did not happen, and 21 percent had no opinion.

Also Monday, more than 50 business leaders from some of New Zealand’s largest companies and business organizations expressed their support for the TPP negotiations in Auckland in an open letter to Prime Minister John Key.

The signatories represented a cross section of all major export sectors, including agriculture, forestry, fishing, horticulture, wine, manufacturing, technology and Maori business, New Zealand International Business Forum chairman Graeme Harrison said in a statement.

They were aware the negotiations posed "challenges for New Zealand policy settings in a number of areas," but they saw great advantages arising from an agreement that "eliminates trade barriers, lowers the cost of doing business and makes improvements to the way regional supply chains can link producers and consumers in the region," Harrison said.

The open letter coincided with the launch of a new business-led initiative, Trade Works, which had a website promoting the potential benefits of TPP funded by the New Zealand United States Council.

US involvement in the TPP has been one of the most contentious issues, with critics claiming the United States is pushing the TPP as a vehicle to contain China’s economic growth in the Pacific.

Last month, 16 Asia-Pacific countries launched negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) free trade agreement that would include the 10 ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) states, together with China, Australia, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea and New Zealand.

Kelsey said the RCEP and TPP were in clear conflict and the New Zealand government would struggle to balance the two.

The current TPP trade agreement between Brunei, Chile, Singapore and New Zealand came into force in 2006, but the United States, Australia, Peru, Vietnam, Malaysia, Canada and Mexico have joined negotiations to expand the agreement.

Japan announced its interest in joining the TPP in 2010, when the negotiations began, and Thailand voiced its interest in joining last month.

source: Global Times