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Outrage Over Indecent Haste to Sneak Singapore Deal Through

14 September 2000

GATT Watchdog Outraged at Indecent Haste to Sneak Singapore Agreement Through

While attention has focussed on the Parliamentary play-fight between Helen Clark and Jenny Shipley over the Singapore free trade and investment agreement the Government is trying to quietly and swiftly sneak the deal through, reneging on earlier statements that the public will be able to have any real input on the agreement, says GATT Watchdog..

GATT Watchdog learnt yesterday that Trade Minister Jim Sutton will give evidence this morning (Thursday 14 September) on the "closer economic partnership" with Singapore to the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Select Committee which will consider the process for a select committee hearing on the agreement.

"We understand that the call for submissions will go out tomorrow, with a ten-day deadline. This government says it believes in "free and fair trade". It says it believes in ‘open government’. Its actions show that it really doesn’t give a damn about free, fair and informed debate on the issues," said Aziz Choudry of GATT Watchdog.

"Pursuant to a February 2000 Cabinet memo, the Select Committee must report to Parliament within 15 sitting days. The 1999 review of sessional orders said that 15 sitting days should be a MINIMUM time for a committee examination. The equivalent committee in Australia also has a 15 sitting day MINIMUM."

"This is in clear breach of the understanding given by Mr Sutton about the process surrounding this agreement. It would set a dangerous precedent for the consideration of future international agreements. Given that the Closer Economic Partnership with Singapore (CEP) is seen as a step towards a possible trade and investment agreement encompassing New Zealand, Australia and South East Asia, that is very disturbing."

"There is absolutely no justification for this indecent haste. The Singapore agreement is not due to come into effect till January 1 2001."

"Jim Sutton recently told journalists ‘There is a high degree of public interest in this agreement. I am delighted that MPs and the public will now have an opportunity to have their say on it.’. Now Mr Sutton and co are thumbing their noses at the public and any MPs who want an opportunity to reconsider this agreement which has been negotiated in secrecy", said Mr Choudry.

"The text of the CEP was only made available on Monday. It is 182 pages long with an 8-page National Interest Analysis. To expect people to obtain, read, analyse, digest, write and deliver submissions on this important agreement in a ten day period is outrageous and insulting."

"People need an appropriate amount of time to consider the contents of the agreement and its implications. Anything less than a month is just not good enough - even if the Trade Minister was to personally deliver a copy of the text of the agreement to every household in the country"

"We suspect Mr Sutton and Ms Clark want this deal stitched up so they can announce it with great fanfare around the time of November’s APEC Summit in Brunei. With APEC in virtual paralysis and the WTO reeling from failure to launch a new round of global trade talks in Seattle last year, both governments see the agreement as a way to symbolically put some "ooomph" back into international trade and investment liberalisation."

"Like its predecessors, this government is petrified of any genuine contest of ideas about free trade. Foreign Affairs and Trade officials did not want a repeat of the 1997/8 hui held to "consult" Maori at which the Multilateral Agreement on Investment was solidly rejected. With the failure of free trade and investment policies to deliver the promised benefits to the majority of New Zealanders, and this week’s mass mobilisations against the global free market economy outside the World Economic Forum in Melbourne fresh in many people’s minds, it aims to sneak this through and avoid further controversy. It must be stopped."

For further comment, contact Aziz Choudry, GATT Watchdog tel (03) 366 2803; GATT Watchdog, PO Box 1905, Christchurch

For more information on the Singapore Free Trade Agreement, including recent updates on this article, see the index page on globalisation


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