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Singapore Free Trade and Investment Agreement Submissions
Urgent action !
GATT Watchdog has prepared this model letter/submission to Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Select Committee on the Inquiry into the Singapore free trade and investment agreement.
Please read, adapt, crosspost, share with others and send a copy from yourself and/or your organisation by email, fax or snailmail as soon as possible. Please cc copies to GATT Watchdog at fax (03) 3668035; PO Box 1905, Christchurch or email: email@example.com
Aziz Choudry GATT Watchdog 18 September 2000
To: David Sanders
Select Committee Inquiry into International Treaty Examination on the Agreement between New Zealand and Singapore on a Closer economic Partnership.
I/we understand that the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee has invited written submissions from the public on the Agreement between New Zealand and Singapore on a Closer Economic Partnership. Because the Select Committee is required to report back to Parliament within 15 sitting days - around 19 October - the closing date for submissions is Monday, 25 September 2000, with hearings of submissions from 26th September to 5th October.
This allows for only nine days for submissions. The provision for a further week (until 2nd October) for "those requiring additional time", if they make a pro forma submission before 25th September, is grossly inadequate. I/we believe that this free trade and investment agreement has critically important consequences, especially because it is described by officials and politicians to be a model for other, more extensive agreements. Yet, the select committee has left me/us no time for solid independent analysis, let alone calling for, preparation and hearing of considered submissions.
The text only became available when it was tabled in Parliament and posted on the Government's website on Monday 11 September. Unlike the Multilateral Agreement on Investment, the government refused to release the draft text to allow informed analysis and comment along the way. People were required to speculate on vaguely worded briefing documents prepared by the officials.
Now that the text is available, people can at last analyse the details - provided they have access to the Internet and the time and skills necessary to interpret such a document. But the document is 190 pages long. To expect people to obtain, read, consult with their constituencies, analyse, write and deliver submissions on this important agreement in this tight time frame is farcical. Those who rely on others to prepare a lay person's guide to such agreements will be excluded from the process altogether. Nor will there be any opportunity for Maori to debate the agreement and its implications in an appropriate manner and setting. The time frame also ensures the committee will not be able to reflect responsibly on submissions and identify the flaws in the agreement so that it can be reconsidered.
I/we therefore condemn this process as profoundly anti-democratic. There is absolutely no justification for such indecent haste. The Singapore agreement is not due to come into effect till January 1 2001.
It is not enough for the Government to claim the treaty making process is more open than before. It is a constitutional outrage that international agreements which purport to bind the policy and legislative options of future governments continue to be processed in this way. I/we note that the current procedure is at odds with the 1999 review of sessional orders which said that 15 sitting days should be a minimum time for a committee examination. That is also the approach of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties in Australia. I/we also believe it is in clear breach of the understanding given by Trade Minister Jim Sutton that there would be a genuine opportunity for public input about this agreement.
This is not simply about the Singapore agreement. It sets 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.
I/we support calls for a full moratorium on this and similar agreements until a proper constitutional process has been agreed to, and a full independent review has been conducted into the implications of any existing commitments and future trade and investment liberalisation agreements.
Please treat this letter as a submission against the free trade and investment agreement with Singapore.
I/we also ask that the select committee consider the fairness of the process as a preliminary issue and record a finding that this procedure violates the constitutional rights of tangata whenua and all other New Zealanders.
For more information on the Singapore Free Trade Agreement, including recent updates on this article, see the index page on globalisation