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Fair Trade Group Condemns NZ Government Secrecy
23 July 2000
Forwarded on behalf of GATT Watchdog.
Fair Trade Group Seeks Singapore Free Trade Agreement Draft From Singapore Government, Condemns NZ Government Secrecy
GATT Watchdog has written to Singapore’s Ministry of Trade and Industry and its High Commissioner in Wellington requesting a copy of the draft text of the free trade agreement being negotiated between New Zealand and Singapore. This follows earlier refusals by the New Zealand Government to release it or Cabinet papers setting out the rationale for the agreement and its scope.
"The secrecy which still surrounds New Zealand’s participation in international negotiations on trade and investment liberalisation is utterly unacceptable. It gives the lie to Labour-led government claims about its commitment to open government and democracy. It clearly does not want genuine open debate about free trade and investment any more than previous governments," said GATT Watchdog spokesman, Aziz Choudry.
"With APEC in a state of virtual paralysis, and the WTO so far failing to kick off a new round of multilateral trade negotiations, the 'Closer Economic Partnership' with Singapore is a step towards a possible new trade bloc including South East Asia, Australia and New Zealand. Without seeing the actual text it is very difficult for people to assess the real implications of this agreement for New Zealand. The only material which the Government has deigned to release is so general and one-sided it is almost meaningless.
"We understand that Jim Sutton will report on the negotiations – which appear to have hit problems – to Cabinet in the next week or two. Meanwhile we hope the Singapore government does the right thing and releases the text to us.
"The Government and Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade show no sign of departing from the secretive, anti-democratic tradition of New Zealand’s participation in trade and investment liberalisation negotiations. This is not the first time we have sought such information from overseas because New Zealand trade officials and ministers operate in such secrecy.
"In 1992 the Dunkel draft of the GATT Agreement was obtained from overseas because New Zealand trade officials would not release it for scrutiny. In 1996 we were only able to raise questions about New Zealand’s draft APEC Individual Action Plan when a copy was leaked from Asia. In 1997, the posting of draft texts of the controversial Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) on the Internet by Canadian campaigners enabled a number of New Zealand organisations and the wider public – including the Alliance – to raise concerns about the MAI many of which New Zealand officials finally had to concede might be justified.
"Even the National Government finally released the draft text of the MAI while negotiations were still continuing, as well as Cabinet briefing papers and decisions and other official documents including communications between MFAT and other ministries. The current government is unwilling to go even that far with this agreement. What is it trying to hide?"
For further comment, ph Aziz Choudry: (03) 3662803