Jane Kelsey: Secretive talks on China-led rival to TPPA starts at Sky City

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Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) and New Zealand's Prime Minister John Key (L) meet at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, 19 March 2014.

Source: Professor Jane Kelsey.

The 13th round of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the China-led rival to the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), will be held at Sky City in Auckland in the coming week.

Professor Jane Kelsey.
Professor Jane Kelsey.

‘Talks on RCEP were launched back in 2012, but it has remained largely under the radar and over-shadowed by the government’s clear preference for the US-led TPPA’, says Auckland University Law Professor Jane Kelsey. ‘Now that deal is threatened by American domestic politics, attention has turned to RCEP as the fall-back option.’

Last month, US President Obama depicted the competition between TPPA and RCEP as a battle over whether America or China makes the rules for the Asia-Pacific region.

‘As the two goliath’s face off, the New Zealand government is trying to keep a foot in both camps. It ignores the fundamental question: why should the rules that decide our future be made by either of these superpowers?’, Professor Kelsey said.

Like the TPPA, the details of these negotiations have been shrouded in secrecy. Recently, Trade Minister Todd McClay refused to name all the chapters being negotiated in response to an Official Information Act request made by Professor Kelsey, withholding the titles of 7 out of 29 chapters, annexes and schedules.

However, draft texts of the investment and intellectual property chapters have been leaked, including different countries’ positions. According to Professor Kelsey, they show Japan and South Korea are seeking to export some of the worst parts of the TPPA into RCEP, notably provisions relating to medicines and foreign investors’ rights and enforcement powers.

‘To date there has also been no opportunity for “stakeholder” engagement in RCEP, although corporate lobbies have had access to negotiators. The Auckland round will be the first such event with a session on Tuesday afternoon’, Professor Kelsey said.

‘The Minister has promised more openness than his predecessor, so hopefully this will be a free and frank exchange, rather than the stonewalling from Ministry officials that we experienced throughout the TPPA. If not, they can expect this negotiation to come under the same intense scrutiny, and face challenges to its legitimacy for undermining sovereignty and te Tiriti o Waitangi and by-passing proper democratic process.’

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