Member log in

Calls for TPP transparency are code for destroying it, says Groser

Campaigners against the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations want the negotiating texts made public to help ensure the process fails, says Trade Minister Tim Groser.

"Those people who are opposed to the agreement want access to the texts so they can blow it apart," he said in an interview with BusinessDesk ahead of a speech today to the ABAC Business Leaders meeting in Auckland where he rejected analysis challenging the claimed benefits of a TPP trade deal.

His comments come after Labour leader David Cunliffe was blocked in Parliament yesterday from debating release of the negotiating texts for the 13-nation TPP negotiations, which could create a new Pacific Rim free trade agreement that extends more deeply than past FTA's into investment, regulatory, and other areas requiring a balance between national sovereignty and expected economic gains.

Auckland University law professor Jane Kelsey, a leading international anti-TPP campaigner, released a letter overnight signed by Opposition party politicians in seven of the negotiating countries: Australia, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand and Peru.

While New Zealand Green Party MP's are among the signatories, Cunliffe and other Labour MP's are not.

Groser defended the need for confidentiality in trade negotiations. The secrecy around the TPP was "no more secret" than other FTA negotiations, although the span of issues in the TPP was wider, the former trade negotiator said.

"Anything worthwhile in life, as any adult with adult experience knows, when you're trying to get people to shift positions or agree on something which they're not comfortable with, requires discretion," said Groser.

"So the idea that doing all this in the glare of publicity would help the process is naïve, except that my view is that ... actually these people (TPP opponents) are smart," said Groser. "They want this to be done in the full glare of transparency to increase the controversy to the point where it's unmanageable and will destroy the agreement.

"They're not asking for transparency, quote unquote, because they really want to see the texts carefully and contribute to a good discussion. They want to screw the negotiation and destroy it."

While negotiating texts were not released, the government was regularly briefing stakeholder groups confidentially, including TPP opponents and Labour's trade and foreign affairs spokespeople, Phil Goff and David Shearer, who are maintaining Labour's traditional bipartisan support for trade liberalisation.

While the TPP negotiations might not succeed, Groser said he was "increasingly comfortable" with progress in the areas where there was greatest concern, including the ability of corporations to sue governments over policies that had an impact on their profitability.

He had repeatedly stated that New Zealand would not sign a deal that compromised the ability of the public drug-buying agency Pharmac to operate.

"I'm becoming increasingly more comfortable that I will be able to ... say 'none of these terrible things have come to pass and it's a pretty good deal; and we're going to have to fiddle around with this, that and the other and the cost of that will be X dollars, but this is one-20th of the gains we're going to get out of this'."

Groser accepted that estimates of a $5.16 billion economic gain from TPP were unlikely to be correct, following analysis published last week by the Sustainability Council of New Zealand suggesting the benefits might only be a quarter of that and the costs of the deal had not been factored in.

"Forget the precise figure," he said. "What matters is the direction of travel. It could be less and it could be substantially more."

Experience with other FTA's showed econometric modelling was as likely to undershoot as overshoot the benefits to New Zealand.

"Trying to model trade negotiations still under negotiation, when not even those directly involved in the negotiation know the outcome, means judgment is requirement on what assumptions to use. Clearly, if you approach modelling from a pre-conceived political starting point, you can input assumption to give you whatever answer you want."

Modelling was also unable to predict how a new trade agreement might change behaviour.

"While I can never prove it, it is inconceivable that two of China's largest dairy companies would be investing the thick end of half a billion dollars in new 'greenfields' dairy processing companies in New Zealand without the (NZ/China) FTA," said Groser. "One could say a similar thing about Fonterra's decision to invest in 33 giant dairy farms in China - very hard to believe that would have happened without the huge expansion of trade in the FTA which has stimulated commercial players' interest in investment."

Growth in China-New Zealand two-way trade was between 11 and 17 times greater than predicted when the FTA was signed by a Labour-led government in 2008.

Official advice in 1979 had suggested there was little point in the Australian Closer Economic Relationship agreement, and there had been similar scepticism about the Singapore-New Zealand FTA. Yet neither would be questioned today.

"No econometric model could pick up these dynamic, often political economy effects."

While Groser accepted the Sustainability Council's charge that it was hard to model the effects of a TPP deal on investment flows, he rejected the suggestion it could undermine effective financial regulation.

"No it won't, because our ability to maintain a prudent financial system trumps trade policy every time."

Likewise, the TPP wouldn't allow companies to sue governments over legitimate public good actions, such as raising corporate tax rates or regulating for environmental impacts.

(BusinessDesk)

More by Pattrick Smellie

Comments and questions
29

Well if the deal does not stand up to scrutiny then something's very wrong. Are we supposed to actually trust politicians to do right by the people? Surely not. I wonder what our bastion of openness Transparency International NZ has to say about it (that's pithy humour in case you were wondering).

I'm sure that the final text will be available - but why should the negotiation drafts? These won't necessarily form part of the final draft and, if they do, the final text will contain them.

My understanding is that the text will only be available to the public several years after the treaty is signed and sealed. This is an anti-democratic process, and we shouldn't even be involved in it on principle.

Because we, the general public, do not want to be presented with a final, non-negotiable, “take it or leave it” fait accompli. Otherwise it is likely the same thing will happen as with ACTA: total rejection, no ifs, pleases or buts.

If the text is robust and stands up to scrutiny how is it going to be "blown apart".

Secret deals on behalf of all New Zealanders should be unconstitutional, if not simply illegal contracts. I do NOT want the intellectual lightweight Tim Groser signing me and my children up to something we have no say in, and worse, no possibility for oversight.

When did transparency in Government become a bad thing?

The hypocrisy is astounding when considering the lengths government has gone to to secure access to all its citizens data and yet it turns around and point blank refuses to accept transparency as a fundamental tenet of functional liberal democracy.

It is not a secret deal!!! The negotiations are confidential which is what you would expect of any negotiations. Open negotiations would be an absolute shambles. If you are negotiating to buy a house do you want every other purchaser to know what you are offering.
The government has said along the final agreement will be presented to parliament for the people of NZ to discuss and for parliament to pass.
We are a trading nation and free trade agreements are very important for us. I may be naïve but I do not think any government would negotiate an agreement that they did not honestly believe would have net benefits for NZ. As in most negotiations you need to give up something to get other benefits but any government that agreed to something that the majority of NZers did not support would be voted out at the next election.

" any government that agreed to something that the majority of NZers did not support would be voted out at the next election. "

Unfortunately true, yet the beauty of the T.P.P is that it will remain binding, so the people of New Zealand are, in effect, powerless anyway...
The details of the negotiations must be kept from the public for as long as possible, so that community groups (socialists) do not have time to organise before the final agreement is railroaded through.
Once the T.P.P has been established I think we can safely say that the " frog is in the pot " and the process of reducing (both sovereign and individual) rights and freedoms, especially with regard to claims on property, can begin.
Congratulations to Tim Groser for his part.

Well the Eu dont seem to have an issue with their deals being open and transparent

Its an open discussion. However, it is not available to the public due to the content involved provides little if any benefit to citizens.

Explain extremely clearly who will gain from the signing of the TPP. Who will make more money. What is the benefit to the citizens of NZ who are being kept in the dark, will be signed up to, and have a binding agreement that cannot be "voted out" in the next election.

Totally agree with you....

For the majority of NZers to accept any TPP deal that appears murky is not only puzzling and extremely risky to us all.....even our fore fathers and/or legal advisers would have advised us not to agree verbally or sign anything that we as educated kiwis are really doubtful....and our NZ Government should take note...no ifs, no buts.

I support free trade. It's one of the great international movements that actually delivers benefits to consumers and to citizens alike.

But the TPP isn't really a free trade agreement. It goes far beyond GATT or any existing FTA, impinging on signatory nations' ability to regulate their own economies, to the betterment of US-based multinationals.

The IP chapter (if the leaks are to be believed) would require New Zealand to give up parallel imports (not just cheap perfume but digital content, not to mention the stock of many shops in the land including The Warehouse and Mighty Ape), generic drug buying, extend our copyright law in bizarre ways and allow software to be patentable - all of which flies in the face of our current laws.

Free trade is desirable and would be good for New Zealand. Giving up our independence to get it seems to me to be a step too far. We should at the least get the ability to vote in US elections if we're going to be part of the US economy.

And this surely is why drafts shouldn't be published. Some countries may want some areas covered but these won't necessarily survive negotiation. By all means lets see the final draft, and then allow parliament to openly debate whether to sign it, but leaking/publishing negotiation drafts will simply cause people to get the wrong impression of what the final looks like.

The worrying thing is that similarly to the push of the 90's Clinton government, this is clearly another play at locking in the next generation of IP and Copyright until the world changes again.

Aside from the raw (il)legality things like illegal downloading etc, if you look at 'why' people do it, the world is obviously screaming for information, ownership, production and distribution to be dealt with in entirely new ways. Without protecting these new-age ventures we'll stifle how quickly we can move forward as a global race by propping up an out of date and crude protectionist system - of which the most successful have been from the US.

It's clearly a powerplay to put the waning protectionism under a modern legal framework. But what are they destroying in the process... We need to tread very carefully, and look far deeper than we're currently seeing.

(different james) - totally agree, why should a free trade agreement impact upon my ability to know whether my baked beans are genetically modified.
why should a free trade agreement make it 10 times harder to use creative commons material. A free trade agreement is as simple as removing tarrifs and in reality I don't see why in this day and age we can't have a balanced agreement between all countries, dividing the world up into sizeable chunks and regulating it does not sound very utopian, especially when I'm told I can't see the deal, what a joke

There are pros and cons to transparency during the negotiation process. Given the nature and importance of the content, between negotiations it would be good if at least a summary of point in agreement and those subject of further negotiation would be released. This would give the citizen of the countries taking part in the negotiations a chance to air their concern and give a clear message to the negotiators where the lines in the sand should be drawn. It might actually speed up the negotiations.

Absolutely agree, Why not reveal the points of agreement if only to demonstrate some level of good faith?

The problem National has is that it has given New Zealanders the impression via Key's shenanigans over the Doctom saga (including the scandalous Customs "Brownie points" email - unacceptably blurring the lines between the judiciary and the government) and deals for Hollywood that it is far too deeply in bed with US corporate interests. New Zealanders' collective sense of transparency / non-corruption has been deeply offended by these sorts of actions - especially re Dotcom. Dotcom may well be unsavoury but that is NO reason to allow our country's executive / judiciary separation to be impaired or blurred.

Unfortunately, to many it smacks of John Key planning his next job, perhaps overseas around lots of Americans.

It is in this climate that the revelations of US desires to completely undermine and emasculate Pharmac, our future governments' abilities to regulate the environment, and flexibility of shopping and innovation around intellectual property causes so much alarm. We can't divorce it from these earlier events.

So many New Zealanders now distrust Key & Co's actions vis-a-vis the USA, and resoundingly distrust the corporate lobbyist driven US government model (have a read about lobbyist "donations" to congress, and completely coincidentally related jobs too many congressmen and women receive after their time in government).

How likely is it that New Zealanders will blindly trust in such circumstances?

That's the massive challenge Grocer faces. And Key's arrogance in the face of questioning or disagreement (all opponents are "ill-informed" or "politically-motivated") hardly helps...

Voting habit disclosure: I voted for National in the last two elections.

"They want this to be done in the full glare of transparency to increase the controversy to the point where it's unmanageable and will destroy the agreement."

The fact that he thinks the agreement would be destroyed if made public, is a concern in itself is it not? What is there to hide Mr Grosser?

Groser is talking specious nonsense.The Swiss was would laugh him of out of court.

No legislation gets passed in this most successful democracy in the world without it being offered to the Swiss themselves to scrutinise, to say yes or no. They don't allow governments to inflict legislation on them - which has been and still is a pattern in this country. And the results are all around us.

The only way this is going to change is by individual support for the 100 Days movement in this country - now taken up in Australia - to hold politicians accountable.

Pharmac buys off patent drugs from third world countries with unknown contents. Further more they do not test to see if the drug imported is as stated on the packaging. To add insult to injury they will not purchase modern life saving drugs until they are off patent. You need to go to Australia or the U.S to obtain modern medication with out side effects. Nz recognises a 16 year patent life. Most modern countries recognise 20.
Because of ineffective medicines more patients wind up in hospital thus costing the tax payer more. Pharmac is doing more harm t h an good. If the tppa forces pharmacy to recognise patents then we would all win.

Oh, well that all sounds like fantastic reasons to let the US pharma companies decimate Pharmac's buying power.

Whoever knew Pharmac were so abysmal? It sounds like we'd all be better off without them.

Who are we kidding? This is just a bit of astroturfing to undermine an organisation that brings so much benefit to Kiwis, and should not be allowed to be undermined.

The worst aspect of TPP will be that it commits our governments to private arbitration processes, leading to determinations that are enforceable in the US courts. The result will be directly enforceable economic control of our legislative processes by foreign corporations, instead of the lobbying processes they have to use at present. No need to provide goods or services at all if you can recover damages to compensate for not being given the opportunity. Disclosing the agreement after it has become enforceable is not a democratic exercise of power, it is a dictatorial one.

>The result will be directly enforceable economic control of our legislative processes by foreign corporations...

Well, I guess the corporations have already found it's quite handy having control of the US congress, so why stop at merely their own government?

Transparency is what I want. Why should I have to wait for wikileaks to tell me what is in the agreement?

There must be plenty of things the general public won't like and since when is transparency a bad thing,

Tim Grosser and John Key are our very well paid public servants. They do not have any other agenda than to serve us, so they need to release the TPP text..

Interesting comments but the point seems to be missed that the drafts have been viewed by over 600 Corporations...So if they can see it, why can't we?

Groser must make the text public. His lame protestations that other FTA negotiations have occurred in secret are pathetic. He knows (and has acknowledged above) that the agreement will not be signed if made public. Surely that's got to be telling the voters of NZ something. Grow a spine Groser, and ditch the TPPA if you know it's unpalatable - how on earth could you possibly rationalise your support for it otherwise?! Your credibility is approaching absolute zero.

And let's remember, the TPPA has never been an FTA. It's about the US propagating its corrupt corporate-run government model to its trading partners so that we can help absorb the massive impact of its collapsing empire.

What nonsense Groser is spouting!Fear tactics have no place here.
Given the poor record this government has with the truth,it would be foolhardy in the extreme for us to allow Key and Groser to enter into a binding agreement without the support of the public at large.
They sound like schoolboys guarding their toys from the other kids.
They will have to do better!
paleo martin

We should torpedoe TPP before it torpedoes us. Experience tells us when you grovel at the big man's table you can look forward to crumbs and a regular boot in the behind!