NZ government’s TPPA secrecy put to the test; US says it will release text

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Source: Professor Jane Kelsey –  NZ government’s TPPA secrecy put to the test; US says it will release text

[caption id="attachment_1844" align="alignleft" width="150"]Professor Jane Kelsey. Professor Jane Kelsey.[/caption]

‘The time has come for the extreme secrecy of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) negotiations to be put to the test’, says University of Auckland law professor Jane Kelsey.

On 25 January 2015 Professor Kelsey requested eight categories of TPPA documents under the Official Information Act (see letter below). They ranged from a simple list of titles of all documents New Zealand has tabled in the negotiations, to release of early or recent position papers and proposed (including leaked) texts, and any cost-benefit studies and impact assessments the government has conducted on specific or general issues. 

The request mirrored categories of documents the EU Ombudsman should be released in the parallel negotiations between the US and EU for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), in her January 2015 report.

Trade Minister Tim Groser eventually refused to release any of the documents.

On 10 March 2015 Professor Kelsey asked the Ombudsman to review the Minister’s decision as a matter of urgency, given the imminence of a final ministerial meeting. The request foreshadowed judicial review of the Minister’s decision if necessary. The Official Information Act requires the Minister’s decision to be reviewed by the Ombudsman before it can be challenged in court.

Two months later the Ombudsman is still considering the complaint. The ministerial meeting billed as the ‘end game’ for the TPPA is now scheduled for 26 to 28 May in Guam.

‘I am deeply concerned that time is running out to get the release of these documents either through the Ombudsman or the courts before final decisions are made on the TPPA’, Professor Kelsey said.

‘The National government ran the same old secrecy line in response to questions in the House from both Labour and New Zealand First last week. The government clearly has no intention of telling New Zealanders or elected MPs what is happening, or of asking the other parties to revoke their extraordinary pact to keep all background documents secret for four years after the agreement comes into force.’

‘At the same time as our government is stonewalling, different messages are coming out from the US’, Professor Kelsey observed.

Members of the US Congress, along with over 600 special corporate advisers, can already see the draft text.

Minister Groser’s US counterpart Michael Froman said this week that the TPPA text will be released in all 12 countries sixty days before it is signed ‘so individual nations can decide if they want to sign.’

‘This is still far from adequate – there is no suggestion they will release a draft before the deal is done, that talks would be reopened to address nations’ concerns, or that the background documents will be released,’ Professor Kelsey observed.

 ‘But it does show how determined our government is to keep in New Zealanders in the dark, when other countries are recognising they can’t maintain that level of secrecy.’ 

‘Minister Groser should pro-actively release all the documents I asked for, in line with the EU Ombudsman’s rationale, and convince the other ministers at their forthcoming meeting to abandon the shroud of secrecy they have thrown over the TPPA negotiations.’

Text of the Official Information Act request:

 25 January 2015

 Hon Tim Groser

Minister for Trade

Parliament Buildings


Dear Minister

 I am seeking under the Official Information Act the following categories of documents relating to the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement:

 (a)   The original negotiating mandate for the financial services and investment chapters of the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership and the inclusion of the United States in those negotiations, and the subsequent negotiating mandate  and/or amendments to those mandates in relation to the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement negotiations;

(b)   A list of the titles, dates and topic of all documents tabled by New Zealand in the negotiations;

(c)    All papers tabled by New Zealand during the negotiations up to 31 December 2013, aside from proposed texts;

(d)   All papers tabled by New Zealand during the negotiations since 31 December 2013, aside from proposed texts;

(e)   All proposals for text and amendments to the text tabled by New Zealand during the negotiations up to 31 December 2013;

(f)     All proposals for text and amendments to the text tabled by New Zealand during the negotiations since 31 December 2013;

(g)    Briefing notes and position papers provided by the Ministry to yourself, to the Cabinet, to other government agencies or to Opposition parties or spokespersons on general or specific matters;

(h)   Any cost-benefit study, impact assessment or similar analysis or evaluation of the proposed agreement as a whole, of specific provisions, or impacts on particular sectors or policies that have been conducted by or for the New Zealand government;

Given the expection that there will be ministerial meeting in March at which crucial decisions will be made I am seeking urgency for this request, or at the least an answer within the statutory period under the Act with no extension of time.

Yours sincerely,

Professor Jane Kelsey