Wednesday, April 13, 2011

For transparency in trade negotiations

At the moment the government is negotiating several international trade agreements, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement with significant implications for New Zealand. Unfortunately, it is doing so in secret. This has several unfortunate consequences. First, it means that we cannot judge the costs and benefits of a deal, and therefore whether it is in our interests. Second, it allows the government to lie to us about what they are putting on the table and sell us out while avoiding accountability. Third, it means the deals have no democratic legitimacy, being effectively agreed behind our backs and without our consent.

This has to change. It is unacceptable for a democracy to conduct its trade policy - or any policy in such a fashion. Kings do business in this way, not democracies.

A coalition of unions and NGOs has lodged a petition on the topic, seeking a matter of urgency a select committee hearing on the TPP talks, even if it is constrained by a lack of hard information. It also asks Parliament to resolve that New Zealand should take the lead in seeking agreement from the other eight countries in the negotiations to the release of draft texts and other documents.

And it wants a parliamentary resolution requiring the Government to release unilaterally the documents it has tabled, including its offers on services trade, investment, government procurement and market access for goods.

These are all good ideas, and its good to see Labour and the Greens supporting them. But sadly the government seems to be dead set against it, with Tim Groser denouncing the idea that us dirty peasants could ever be allowed to see what our government is doing. Apparently if we could see the deals, we'd never agree to them. But to me, that seems to be an argument for openness rather than against it.

Where there is secrecy, there can be no trust, and no legitimacy. We have a strong presumption of openness around the formulation of domestic policy. Its time that presumption was extended to foreign policy as well.