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TPPA secrecy scales bizarre new heights

12 May 2014

For immediate release

TPPA secrecy scales bizarre new heights

‘The government has maintained an absurd veil of secrecy over the negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement and it keeps getting worse’, according to University of Auckland law professor Jane Kelsey.

‘The only detailed information available to New Zealanders has been the result of leaked texts and me going to the meetings to talk to negotiators and get a sense of what is happening.’

It has become extremely difficult even to find out when and where meetings are taking place.

‘I have been forced to rely on urgent Official Information Act requests, usually to confirm information received from elsewhere, and to find out who is attending on behalf of the New Zealand government’, Kelsey said.

Despite the lack of information and very late notice, Professor Kelsey has been travelling to these meetings at considerable personal expense and talking with negotiators from various countries about the areas she is monitoring most closely.

Officials are negotiating again in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam this week before a meeting of ministers in Singapore on 19-20 May. As Professor Kelsey observed ‘no one would know. There has been no public announcement and nothing on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade website.’

Five days ago the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade responded to another urgent request from Professor Kelsey, dated 15 April, advising which negotiators working on what issues would be at this week’s meeting.

‘But they have refused to tell me the dates when the particular groups will be negotiating, despite me explaining that I am only able to be in Vietnam later in the week and want to know which groups would still be meeting then.’

Their justification was ‘privacy and security’. ‘Since when has the dates on which officials will be representing the government in negotiations been a matter of privacy? Who and what are the potential threats to security?’, Kelsey asked.

‘I am forced to rely on negotiators from other countries to tell me when they are meeting, rather than from my own government. This is just bizarre’.

The TPPA negotiations have been underground since last formal round in Brunei in August 2013. Since then, there have been two formal ministerial meetings, preceded by negotiating rounds involving officials in the key unresolved areas, including investment, state-owned enterprises, intellectual property, and market access for agriculture.

Media have been invited to register for these meetings. But there has been no pretence of providing even the ‘stakeholder’ registration and perfunctory briefings they were forced to provide earlier in the process because of the outcry over secrecy.

Professor Kelsey will appeal to the Ombudsman against the refusal to release the information. But assuming the precise dates when each group is negotiating are released, that will be too late to adjust travel arrangements.

ENDS

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