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Key accused of spreading TPPA 'mistruths'

Tuesday 1 Oct 2013 9:44 a.m.

Prime Minister John Key has been accused of lying about the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, the day after the launch of a campaign calling for the details of the controversial deal to be released.

Speaking on Firstline this morning, Mr Key said the details of the agreement, known as the TPPA, would be made public once its terms had been agreed upon, so Parliament can ratify it.

"With all [free trade agreements] the way that they work is that have to be ratified by Parliament, and we have to build a parliamentary majority, and all of that has to happen through the transparency of the deal," says Mr Key.

"So when a deal is agreed and the Government says yeah, we think we can live with those conditions, then all of that becomes public and all of those discussions take place."

But Auckland University law professor Jane Kelsey says it's not true that Parliament will get to debate the treaty before it is ratified.

"This mistruth has been repeated so many times by ministers and National MPs that it has to be a deliberate attempt to defuse growing concerns about the secrecy of these negotiations and anti-democratic nature of the agreement," says Prof Kelsey.

Instead, under the law the decision rests with "the executive" – in New Zealand's case, Prof Kelsey says, this means Cabinet.

"Parliament does not get to see the text until after it is signed. The text is then tabled in Parliament and referred to a select committee. But the committee cannot change the text. Nor can Parliament."

She says even if Parliament voted against the TPPA, Cabinet could legally ratify it anyway – and would be expected to do so under international law.

"[Trade Minister Tim] Groser and Key will be assuming this does not become an issue, because Labour has supported such agreements in the past," says Prof Kelsey.

But new Labour leader David Cunliffe has called for the text of the agreement to be made public, possibly throwing a spanner in the works.

"David Cunliffe's call for release of the draft text so people can assess its implications shows that support can no longer be assumed," says Prof Kelsey.

A campaign calling for the text to be released was launched yesterday. One of those behind it, blogger and journalist Russell Brown, says the TPPA will see New Zealand trade away "a great deal of sovereignty".

"My impression is that our negotiators there are fighting the good fight, but there is absolutely no guarantee that they are going to get their way, or our way," he said on Firstline this morning.

"I think there's a very strong argument for us actually knowing what's going on, because my impression is that when this deal is done, it will be a matter for the executive – not for Parliament."

Mr Key says international free trade agreements are always conducted in secrecy, and the TPPA is no different.

"I can't go through every line-by-line, and the reason for that is that's never been the way it's occurred in the past. It wasn't like that when we did the China FTA, it hasn't been like that when we did the ASEAN FTA.

"The reason for that is because you'd be sort of having a negotiation, or discussion if you like, with the public and through the media; but all the while things, like any kind of negotiation, change quite a bit behind the scenes. So there's nothing new or historic about what we're doing."

Mr Brown says there is little comparison between the China FTA, which was agreed on by Labour under Helen Clark, and the TPPA.

"I'm broadly in favour of free trade agreements, especially multilateral ones, but when we were dealing with China they were not seeking for us to basically trade away a good deal of our sovereign law – including some really important things like environmental regulations and food safety regulations."

But Mr Key says Kiwis have nothing to fear from the agreement, and it will add between $2 and $4 billion to New Zealand's GDP.

"New Zealand's an open trading nation – we don't make our living selling things to each other, we make it selling things to the world."

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