Media Release: Professor Jane Kelsey & Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network. Friday 25 March 2011.
For months, civil society critics of the Trans-Pacific free trade agreement involving nine countries, including Australia and New Zealand, have patiently played the game as “stakeholders” on the fringes of negotiating rounds in San Francisco, Auckland and Santiago.
The latest round of negotiations began in Singapore yesterday, four days ahead of the original schedule. The “stakeholder” process has become even more farcical – there is not even a single official briefing. As a result, Australian and New Zealand groups have boycotted the event.
“The fig leaf of the ‘stakeholder’ process has now been stripped away, and with it any pretense that these secret negotiations have any democratic legitimacy”, said Harvey Purse, Trade Justice Campaigner for the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network (AFTINET).
“We were always cynical about the prospects of any genuine opportunities for debate on the crucial issues of pubic health, foreign ownership, livelihoods, financial stability, and much more. Nevertheless, we made a major investment of time and money to prepare serious analyses and report and present these at the “stakeholder” events”.
University of Auckland law professor Jane Kelsey, who attended the ‘stakeholder’ events in Auckland and Santiago, said the process was always cosmetic.
“There was no access to any documentation that could engender informed debate and briefings from host officials that told us nothing. At the same time, corporate interests enjoy privileged access to the negotiators, including during formal sessions, as well as to the texts.”
At the Santiago negotiations in February, all delegations were handed letters signed by prominent civil society groups from Australia, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand and the United States calling for greater transparency and release of draft texts and position papers. TPP negotiators were challenged to match the minimal level of disclosure at the notoriously undemocratic World Trade Organisation.
“Instead of ending the secrecy, the participating governments have circled the wagons”, Professor Kelsey said. “Clearly they don’t believe what they are doing will survive public scrutiny.”
“We will intensify pressure on our own governments to bring some democracy to bear on the TPPA process at home and at the June negotiations in Vietnam.”
Harvey Purse observed that “activists across the TPP countries are already discussing what action we might take if the Obama administration continues this shut down during the September round in San Francisco and at APEC in Honolulu in November”.