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NZ In Plot To Muzzle Staff At Commonwealth Sec.

Immediate release: 2 November 2003


A storm has broken out in England over disclosures in the Guardian newspaper that the New Zealand and British governments plotted to muzzle two staff from the Commonwealth Secretariat who were advising governments from poorer countries at the WTO ministerial meeting in Cancun.

"Both governments appear to be donkey deep in practices that even Commonwealth Secretary General Don McKinnon says reflect a 19th century neo-colonial mentality", said Dr Jane Kelsey on behalf of ARENA (Action Research and Education Network of Aotearoa).

One of the Secretariat's advisers had previously described the WTO as "fundamentally flawed" and discouraged developing countries from supporting a further round of WTO negotiations. The second has argued that developing countries are disadvantaged because of their lack of economic and political power.

"Both statements are obvious to anyone who has been monitoring the WTO since 1995. But the truth remains unpalatable to the stalwarts of the Œold white Commonwealth'."

The Guardian report of 31 October quotes from a letter apparently written by one of Britain's most senior trade negotiators Elaine Drage to New Zealand diplomat Robert Hole at the London High Commission two weeks before the Cancun meeting.

The letter accused Roman Grynberg, the Commonwealth Secretariat's deputy director for international trade, of Œpreaching protectionism and isolationism' to developing countries at the previous WTO meeting in Doha.

Ms Drage promised to Œkeep track' of him at Cancun. In return Œyou will try to find out when his current three-year contract expires. We both believe he is already into his second and therefore (ought to be) final three-year contract.'

The letter also criticised Vinod Rege, adviser to the 24 Commonwealth countries with permanent missions to the WTO and UN agencies in Geneva. His contract, funded by the UK's Department of International Development, has expired and not been renewed.

Ms Drage's letter advised that: "We need to do what we can to ensure any successor works within a more clearly defined and monitored management structure."

Dr Kelsey noted that "these disclosures put the lie, yet again, to claims that New Zealand is really on the side of poorer countries.

"Presumably this behaviour was sanctioned by Trade Negotiations Minister Jim Sutton at ministerial level. If not, it seems that New Zealand's officials in the London embassy are now beyond the government's control.

"The Prime Minister needs to explain what she is doing to censure those responsible for planning such outrageous interference.

"Don McKinnon has summoned Britain's minister of trade and industry Patricia Hewitt to a meeting. We want to know how he proposes to hold the New Zealand government to account as well".


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