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"Big Debate” on TPPA is meaningless in face of a done deal

Minister Groser’s “Big Debate” on TPPA is meaningless unless it comes before an agreement is signed

University of Auckland law professor Jane Kelsey has challenged trade minister Tim Groser to come clean on whether he really intends to allow ordinary New Zealanders, or even his fellow legislators, to have any effective opportunity to debate the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement before it is a done deal.

The Minister claimed on TVNZ’s Q&A this morning that “at the end of the day, if there is a deal all of the fine detail will be out in the political debate and people can then look at a balanced view. … It is something we will have a big debate on when the time is right, but this is not the time”.

‘“At the end of the day, if there is a deal” are the magic words’, says Professor Kelsey. ‘The Minister knows that it will be too late by then for the debate to have any impact.’

‘Many New Zealanders who don’t understand how the treaty-making process works would have got the impression from the Minister that they would have a genuine opportunity to influence the final shape of the deal’.

‘But we can debate the final outcome as much as we like at that stage – which the minister cutely describes as “when the time is right” – and it won’t make a blind bit of difference’.

Professor Kelsey explained that the government would have to be prepared to ask the other eleven parties to re-open a finished text that they and New Zealand have already agreed on after years of negotiation. Those countries would then have to be willing to reopen it, and to change the text to address New Zealanders’ concerns. Unless all of that happened, any debate after agreement was reached would be utterly meaningless.

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‘Tim Groser needs to be asked directly “will New Zealanders be able to see and debate the text of the TPPA before it is signed - yes or no?”’

If “yes”, he needs to say how long the debate will run for, in what forums, and guarantee that people will have access to the proposed text and to a truly independent comprehensive analysis to help inform the discussions.

‘If the answer is “no”, and I bet it is, then he should stop trying to mislead the public into thinking that a subsequent debate will have any influence on the outcome’, Kelsey said.

The Minister also claimed that making the draft text public before it was signed would see New Zealand “kicked out of the negotiations”.

‘It is my understanding from following the negotiations intently over the past four years that the technical work is almost concluded and there is now a largely complete text’, Professor Kelsey said.

‘That text will have a lot of square brackets, which identify the points of political disagreement among the parties and are what they will horse-trade over. It is those choices that New Zealanders, and citizens from the other eleven countries, need to be aware of and able to comment on before the final decisions are made.’

‘The fetters that the Minister refers to are self-imposed by the parties. In the interests of democracy they can, and must, remove them’.


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