Maori claimants have told the Waitangi Tribunal that the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement risks endangering important future settlements from the Ngapuhi settlement to water rights claims.
The Waitangi Tribunal's hearing on the Trans Pacific Partnership began in Wellington today and is set to go all week. The TPP contains a clause allowing the Government to give preferential treatment to Maori under the Treaty, but many of the claimants questioned whether it would be willing to invoke that.
Bryce Lyall, speaking for Ngapuhi, said that iwi was moving toward settlement. "They are concerned the Crown's ability to provide redress will be compromised." He said the Crown would be the sole arbiter on when to invoke the Treaty exception and there was concern the risk of a challenge under investor state disputes processes would have a "chilling effect" on the Government's willingness to do so.
"The chilling effect is a bit like a taniwha, noone doubts it is there but it can be rather hard to prove it in fact."
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Speaking on behalf of the Maori Council, Peter Andrew said each international agreement the Government entered ceded more sovereignty. "If there is a material diminution in capacity to provide redress, and we say there is, then there is a breach of the Treaty of Waitangi." He said the TPP gave foreign investors greater commercial rights in New Zealand that risked eroding Maori rights which were yet to be finalised, such as over water.
"It gives rise to an unacceptable degree of risk and uncertainty." He said those water claims should be settled before the TPP came into effect.
Many of the claimants are from Northland and have referred to last year's Waitangi Tribunal decision that found the hapu of that region did not cede sovereignty at the time of signing the Treaty. Judge Doogue said that finding was restricted to sovereignty at the time of the signing in 1840 and stage two of that report was expected to cover whether Maori had ceded sovereignty since then. The claimants have also criticised the secrecy of negotiations, saying the Government did not have "unbridled" rights to act on behalf of Maori without involving them.
Annette Sykes said she believed there was a window of opportunity for a report from the Tribunal to inform the select committee considering the TPP that there had been a Treaty breach. "We do not accept that the Treaty exception is the protection the Crown claims it to be."
She said each of the partners of the TPP should be asked to confirm that the Treaty protection was "water tight." If they were not willing to do so, it meant the Treaty clause should be amended. "IF the Crown can not fix it, there is a fundamental question whether that Treaty exception is any protection at all."
She said the Crown had described it as the most significant agreement it had signed, and each agreement had a progressive impact on Maori rights. She said the Crown's conduct in failing to negotiate with Maori before agreeing to the TPP was "deplorable."