Former MP Hone Harawira has stated some complete falsehoods about Trans Pacific Partnership, Maori and the Treaty of Waitangi.
This coincided with publication of a paper by "experts" Dr Carwyn Jones, Associate Professor Claire Charters, Andrew Eruti and Professor Jane Kelsey on "Maori rights, Te Tiriti O Waitangi and the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement".
Days later several Maori elders spoke negatively about the TPP at Ratana and were joined by a bevy of political leaders.
This criticism of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) forced me to reread a big chunk of the TPP and previous free trade agreements and to study every element of the criticisms being levelled against the TPP and Maori.
My conclusions are radically different from the critics'. I believe that rather than being inadequate in its protections for Maori, TPP is if anything a taonga in the way it protects the rights of the New Zealand Government to discriminate in favour of Maori. This in turn, I think, adds enormous mana to Maori.
I feel Maori are being poorly advised from some quarters and it is essential that ministers and government officials spend even more time explaining the protections for Maori in the agreement and the trade benefits that will flow to Maori from it. These benefits are substantial.
TPP is an agreement between 12 countries. Pretty much all the 12 jurisdictions are home to indigenous minorities - for example, the First Peoples of the United States, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Chile, the Aboriginal people in Australia, the Malays in Singapore and Malaysia, and the Ainu in Japan.
Yet none of these peoples is mentioned in the main text of the deal and none of their Governments has secured agreement from the other members that they should be allowed to discriminate in favour of them.
In contrast Maori are mentioned, as is the Treaty of Waitangi. Article 29.6 of TPP is actually titled "Treaty of Waitangi". It says that "provided that such measures are not used as a means of arbitrary or unjustified discrimination against persons of the other parties or as a disguised restriction on trade in goods, trade in services and investment, nothing in this agreement shall preclude the adoption by New Zealand of measures it deems necessary to accord more favourable treatment to Maori in respect of matters covered by this agreement, including in fulfilment of its obligations under the Treaty of Waitangi".
This is pretty much the same clause that has been included in all free trade agreements (FTAs) New Zealand has negotiated since 2001. It has stood the test of time. It has allowed multiple Treaty settlements to be completed and has not had (as some critics claim will happen under TPP) "a chilling effect" on Government's ability to adopt policies more favourable to Maori than other New Zealanders or nationals of these FTA partners.
TPP's protection of the Treaty goes even further than earlier FTAs. It states "the parties agree that the interpretation of the Treaty of Waitangi, including as to the nature of the rights and obligations arising under it, shall not be subject to the dispute settlement provisions of this agreement." This means it is entirely up to New Zealand to determine if any discrimination has occurred because of the treaty (so long as this is not a disguised restriction on trade).
I am frankly amazed the US and others have agreed to this provision. Our ministers and officials have done a great job achieving this. All Maori should be saying: "Well done!"
Charles Finny is a former official and trade negotiator for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. He most recently negotiated NZ's free trade agreement with Taiwan.
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