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Singapore Agreement Process a ‘Sham’
13 September 2000
For Immediate Release
Select Committee Process for Singapore Agreement a ‘Sham’
Referral of the Singapore free trade agreement to the Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade select committee is a sham, according to Professor Jane Kelsey of Auckland University.
The Committee is required to report back to Parliament within 15 sitting days – around 19 October. That means there will be no time for solid independent analysis, let alone calling for, preparation and hearing of considered submissions by the Select Committee. "The text was secret until it was tabled in Parliament on Monday. The only information available until then was a minimal and self-serving cost-benefit analysis prepared by officials, which formed the basis of the Government’s much vaunted ‘consultation’, and a more recent updated summary of some of its terms," said Professor Kelsey.
"Those of us with concerns about its implications were reduced to shadow-boxing with the Government. Now that we have the text and can analyse its details, the time frame means there will be no genuine opportunity to make submissions and have the flaws in the Agreement reconsidered."
"The Select Committee is dominated by Labour and National MPs and serviced by Foreign Affairs and Trade Officials. Leaving them to analyse the agreement and National Interest Analysis without independent submissions makes a mockery of the process".
"There would be constitutional outrage if this approach was taken with a major piece of domestic legislation. It should be considered even more outrageous in an international agreement that purports to bind the policy and legislative options of future governments".
This is the first major international economic agreement to come before the select committee under standing orders 384 to 387, as amended last October after a limited review of the sessional orders for dealing with treaties that were introduced in 1998. Once the agreement has been presented to the House, both the text and the accompanying ‘national interest assessment’ stand referred to the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade select committee. The standing orders impose no time limits for the select committee to report. Nor is there any specified procedure for conducting a public inquiry.
The 1999 review of sessional orders said that 15 sitting days should be a minimum time for a committee examination. Because this would be inadequate where a treaty or agreement was controversial and the committee wished to conduct a public inquiry including the calling for submissions, the committee should be able to ask the Government for an assurance that no action would be taken on the agreement within a specified further time. There is no such provision in the new standing orders. Instead, a Cabinet memorandum dated February 2000, which has been obtained under the Official Information Act, requires the Select Committee to report within 15 days.
Professor Jane Kelsey
For more information on the Singapore Free Trade Agreement, including recent updates on this article, see the index page on globalisation