Debate urged on TPP text, New Zealand

Debate urged on TPP text

By Andrea Fox - BusinessDay

7 December 2010

If the proposed nine-country Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement is one "for the 21st century" as negotiators are calling it, its text should be open so New Zealanders can see what their Government is planning to agree to, say groups concerned about the talks in Auckland.

About 400 negotiators representing New Zealand, Australia, the United States, Brunei, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Chile and Peru are in Auckland for the fourth round of the negotiations.

Council of Trade Unions policy director Bill Rosenberg said yesterday that many items being negotiated were "more important than legislation" in terms of their implications for New Zealanders.

For the Government to sign up to a trade agreement whose contents were released only after all countries involved had agreed to it, as had been the case in past trade agreements, was akin to Cabinet passing law without a select committee or any public notification, he said.

Trade was a "very small part" of the proposed TPP, he said.

"Most of the proposed agreement covers areas like foreign investment rules, empowering foreign companies to sue our Government, opening our services to more international competition, our right to regulate, pharmaceutical costs, intellectual property rights, and preventing use of government procurement to help local firms."

NZ-US Council executive director Stephen Jacobi said the agreement was about regional economic integration because "that’s the way business is being done". Business between countries was increasingly complex, he said.

New Zealand needed access to more markets and to address trade issues such as getting "considerably less fair treatment" with the US than Australia or Chile did.

"It’s a negotiation that’s not even halfway through. We can’t predict the outcome. There will be a text [released], there will be a national economic interest analysis, there will be a select committee process.

"If it isn’t any good, we don’t have to sign it." Jacobi said if the text of proposals were released "too early" it would undermine negotiations.

Observer Andrew Campbell of Finsec, the financial services union, said financial markets needed more rules, not fewer, to avoid more global economic meltdowns.

Its financial structure did not need integrating "with countries which have less rules than us".

Campbell said TPP could threaten New Zealand’s sovereignty. "This is not a private contract, it is a public contract. It needs a public discussion."

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