Media Release: Professor Jane Kelsey. Saturday 19 February, 2011
The Labour Party’s call for greater transparency in negotiations on a Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPPA) is welcome and timely. The TPPA negotiations are expected to dominate the agenda of the US/New Zealand Council meeting that begins in Christchurch tomorrow.
“Ironically, Labour’s call comes at a time when the US seems to want less transparency and ‘stakeholder” participation in the TPPA process, not more,” according to Professor Kelsey.
“Labour’s call for the government to broaden its consultation to a much wider range of public interest groups is an important first step,” said Professor Jane Kelsey, who has been highlighting the democratic deficit in the negotiations.
“The terms of any ‘consultation’ are crucially important. Inevitably, where certain groups are given special access there are many interests that remain unrepresented and selective consultation can rarely marshall all the expertise that is needed. For transparency to be meaningful the relevant documents must be publicly disclosed”.
This happens in the US. Under US domestic law the US Trade Representative (USTR) must undertake extensive ‘consultation’, which mainly works to give big business a privileged say in the negotiations. Yet the USTR has consistently blocked the broader release of documents from such negotiations – in the case of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement until repeated leaks forced release of the draft text for public scrutiny.
The USTR is apparently taking the same position on the TPPA in response to a series of leaks of draft TPPA text during the negotiating meeting in Santiago this week.
According to the Chilean hosts, delegations to the TPPA talks did discuss the request for greater public disclosure in letters signed by prominent public interest groups in Australia, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand and the US, but they had not agreed.
Professor Kelsey labelled as “perverse” the rejection of even the minimalist public disclosure practices of the World Trade Organization (to which all the TPP countries belong) on the grounds that TPPA negotiations are more intense and involve deeper and more sensitive issues.
“The deeper the intrusion on sovereignty, democracy and indigenous self-determination, the greater the need is for openness and accountability, not for more secrecy”.
“An end to secrecy should be top of the US NZ Council’s discussion of a TPPA, because shutting the public out of the TPPA process strips it of any pretence of legitimacy.”
“Meanwhile, the New Zealand government should take the lead by unilaterally making public the documents that it has tabled in the negotiations so far and actively lobbying for genuine openness among other parties.”