Leaked drafts of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has reignited the debate over loss of national sovereignty in free-trade pacts, with opponents claiming the TPP as a sell-out to global corporate interests and advocates dismissing the concerns as "overblown."
The issue gained legs again after the release of what Auckland University law professor and anti-TPP campaigner Jane Kelsey says is a leaked and recent draft of the TPP, which includes provisions allowing foreign investors to sue governments in the event that policy decisions erode their profits.
However, the head of the NZ-US Council, former trade negotiator and diplomat Stephen Jacobi, said such clauses exist in other free-trade pacts and are aimed at allowing foreign investors redress in the event of government actions such nationalisation.
"Opponents of the TPP should take heed of the provisions stating very clearly that signatories will continue to be able to adopt, maintain and enforce legislation protecting the environment, health and labour safety," Jacobi said.
Trade Negotiations Minister Tim Groser came under pressure in Parliament from Green Party co-leader Russel Norman, who questioned why the New Zealand government was not following the lead of the Australian federal government, which has said it will not sign a TPP agreement with such a clause.
"The New Zealand government will make up its own mind on what's in New Zealand's interests when all the facts are on the table, and we are far from that point," he said, gaining unexpected support from Labour trade spokesman Clayton Cosgrove, who pointed out New Zealand's free trade agreement with China preserves the right to regulate for health, environmental and labour market protections.
However, Groser refused to release any of New Zealand's negotiating position publicly,
Kelsey challenged Jacobi on claims that FTA's can be scrutinised by Parliament, saying "the TPP is like all such treaties. They are done by the Cabinet. Cabinet alone sets the negotiating mandate, reviews the texts, decides and makes the political trade-offs, signs and ratifies the final text.
"The select committee does not get to see the text until the deal is signed and it has no power to require changes. Nor does the Parliament have any authority over the agreement, except where the treaty requires positive changes to legislation."
Jacobi said "part of being an international citizen inevitably means we must accept limitations on Government actions."
"New Zealand has done this in signing up to the World Trade Organisation, the World Health organization, the Kyoto Protocol, and a raft of other international agreements," and gained international legal protections in return.
"New Zealand desperately needs the access to the markets, investment, jobs and other economic growth opportunities that the TPP will deliver," Jacobi said.