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NZ should follow Malaysia lead in releasing TPPA text

If Malaysia can release TPPA text before it’s signed and say no deal without “fast track”, why can't NZ?

‘For years Malaysia was treated as suffering a severe democratic deficit compared to countries like New Zealand. Today it puts us and other so-called advanced democracies to shame with its relative openness on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement’, according to University of Auckland law professor Jane Kelsey, who was in Kuala Lumpur yesterday briefing media and others on the TPPA.

At a press conference yesterday, Malaysia’s Minister for International Trade and Industry Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed said: ‘The draft text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) will be released to enable detailed scrutiny and public debate before any final agreement is signed.’ That would be unprecedented for Malaysia.

Mustapa’s words are identical to an open letter from legislators from seven countries, including Malaysia and New Zealand, which was released last week.

By contrast, New Zealand’s Tim Groser peremptorily dismissed the call from parliamentarians, including the Greens, New Zealand First, Maori and Mana parties, and the government prevented Labour from presenting a similar motion in the House.

Mustapa made his statement at a press conference that followed a media briefing by the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI). In another poignant contrast, MITI’s 20-slide powerpoint presentation set out the scope of the agreement, issues that have not yet been agreed, Malaysia’s expected gains and the principle areas of concern.

Malaysia’s long list of concerns include intellectual property, tobacco policy, investor state dispute settlement, state-owned enterprises, government procurement preferences for bumiputra, and enforceability of labour and environment chapters.

‘MITI’s presentation ended with another challenge that should ring in Tim Groser’s ears’, Kelsey said.

Malaysia said the conclusion of negotiations ‘will hinge on the US obtaining fast track’,
That echoes what Japan and Vietnam’s ambassadors to the US reportedly told a Washington forum yesterday. Fast track is also expected to be an issue for the new government that takes power in Chile next week.

‘Contrast that to our Prime Minister’s speech several weeks ago that Obama might not get fast track, or be able to get the TPPA through the Congress - but New Zealand needs to help get the deal done as soon as possible.’

Despite Mustapa’s suggestion there is still a long way to go, the feeling in Singapore is that that the Ministerial meeting in the next few days will push to conclude almost all the agreement, aside from the handful of red lines that countries have staked out. The focus will then turn to the crucial questions of market access on agriculture, automobiles and textiles.

Professor Kelsey speculated that the remaining issues are more likely to become bargaining chips in the final trade-offs than stumbling blocks to a final deal, unless there is such domestic a backlash that government’s decide not the sign.

‘Malaysia seems to be foreshadowing that outcome is possible if they cannot protect important social and economic development policies. After all, they walked away from a Malaysia US FTA in 2009. Would New Zealand be prepared to listen to its people and do the same?’


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