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APEC - What Price Debate?

GATT Watchdog
PO Box 1905
Aotearoa (New Zealand)

6 May 1999

What Price Debate? Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade Official Information Act Response on APEC/WTO slammed

GATT Watchdog is unimpressed with an MFAT response to an Official Information Act request relating to APEC and the World Trade Organisation liberalisation of trade in the forest products sector.

Yesterday, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade faxed a request for a ten-day extension and $3164 for providing the information. This follows an April 30th decision by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry to charge the group $3500 (plus photocopying expenses likely to run to several hundred dollars) for working on a similar Official Information Act request.

"What price does the government put on debate about the pros and cons of free trade and investment?" asked Aziz Choudry of GATT Watchdog.

"For us, this has the same effect as a flat refusal to provide the information. Do MFAT and MAF officials regard their work to be above public scrutiny?"

"We have little sympathy with government ministries' requests for outrageous amounts of money in return for official information on APEC. The government has the money to spend on glossy leaflets and brochures which merely trot out the same old hype about APEC - regardless of the poverty of evidence that there appears to be to back up its claims. If it can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in a facile feelgood public relations campaign to promote the message that "APEC is good" while deliberately avoiding focussing on "the complex substance of the APEC process such as trade liberalisation or facilitation" it can afford to pay the wages of officials and photocopying costs of making official information freely available so that there can be an informed debate on the issues. It can find around $50 million to host APEC for a pre-election photo-op, but wants to charge the earth for releasing important information to a non-profit organisation."

"MFAT has suggested that we revise our original request to narrow its scope. This is not possible. In order for any in-depth policy analysis, and without the knowledge of the precise dates and nature of the documents in existence, such an OIA request cannot be more specific."

GATT Watchdog has lodged letters calling for an investigation and review of both the MAF and MFAT decisions with the Ombudsmen's Office. Today it sent an Official Information Act request to the Prime Minister and the Secretary of Foreign Affairs and Trade. It requests "all and any official documentation, memos and correspondence (including electronic correspondence) in relation to guidelines and strategies for government ministers and ministries in responding to Official Information Act requests on APEC and the upcoming WTO negotiating round". It has also informed MAF and MFAT that it will not pay for the information.

"Perhaps the government has a problem justifying the positions it is taking in relation to its participation within fora like APEC and the WTO beyond the rhetorical public statements which it tends to make about such matters."

"Perhaps it is scared of a repeat of the vigorous debate and opposition around the stalled Multilateral Agreement on Investment - the provisions of which have strong parallels with APEC's non-binding investment principles - and which was only made possible because a leaked draft of the MAI was distributed internationally by concerned critics of unrestricted trade and investment in North America," said Mr Choudry.

For further comment, contact Aziz Choudry ph (03) 3662803

Return to: "Resist APEC".

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