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War of words in TPP public perception battle

Monday 3 Dec 2012 6:05 a.m.

Negotiators from 11 countries are meeting in Auckland this morning for the latest round of talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.

There are hopes a deal to free up trade with countries like the United States, Canada, and Mexico could provide a significant boost to the New Zealand economy.

But there’s also a large amount of public unease – with a protest rally to be held when the next round of negotiations begin in Auckland this weekend.

That public wariness appears to be largely driven by a perceived secrecy around the negotiation process.

“Tim Groser and John Key are telling us ‘trust us’. Well sorry, the track record of US free-trade deals shows that they are done in the interests of US companies, not in the interests of other countries,” says TPP critic Jane Kelsey.

But political commentator Matthew Hooton claims the process is transparent.

“It’s not that secretive, there’s regular updates [which] get put up on all the websites of the countries involved, the foreign ministries and trade agencies of the countries involved,” he says.

Green Party co-leader Dr Russel Norman and Ms Kelsey both claim the TPP will form a legally-binding agreement which will impact on future Governments.

“The cabinet effectively can sign them off and make them binding on us without us having any say about it. Parliament has very very little role to play in this process,” says Ms Kelsey, but Mr Hooton disagrees.

“If, after time, we don’t like it we can always pull out so there’s no question of sovereignty," he says. "We remain sovereign.”

Mr Hooton says the TPP was originally conceived by New Zealand and Singapore and the country needs to pursue it.

“It’d be wonderful if this did happen. This has been New Zealand’s number-one foreign policy objective for nearly 20 years.”

Public perception is New Zealand is a pawn in the negotiations – the US wishes to see Pharmac’s control of the New Zealand drug industry loosened, and leaked cables by whistleblowing website Wikileaks appeared to show the re-writing of the Copyright Act as a key part of negotiations.

“It’s not about trade, it’s actually about constraining our future decisions through pro-corporate and market lighthanded based rules,” says Ms Kelsey.

Mr Hooton says the US is having to concede some of its major stances too. 

“For us to get a deal that’s acceptable to us the United States is going to have to give up a lot of what is important to some of its politicians, mainly agricultural protectionism and agricultural subsidies,” he says.

Protesters plan to gather outside Sky City, where the talks are being held. Steven Parry, campaigner for itsourfuture.org.nz says the implications of a deal will be wide-reaching.

Trade Negotiations Minister Tim Groser has labelled opponents of the TPP "fools" who are trying to "wreck this agreement".

Despite the Government's assurances of the contrarty, Sanya Reid Smith of the Third World Network is worried the TPP will undermine Pharmac's ability to buy cheaper generic drugs.

“It could buy fewer medicines and subsidies,” she says. “Fewer medicines because it has to pay more per medicine for longer.”

The United States, Australia, Singapore, Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia, Chile, Peru, Mexico, and Canada and New Zealand will all be represented at today's talks.

3 News / RadioLIVE 

 

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