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Trans-Pacific Partnership secrecy draws critics

Sunday 2 Dec 2012 4:16 p.m.

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Negotiators from 11 countries gather in Auckland tomorrow for the 15th round of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks.

But also there will be consumer rights campaigners and other activists from here and abroad, who are concerned about what is being negotiated behind closed doors.

The New Zealand government has been a big promoter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, saying it could provide a billion-dollar boost to our economy.

“It's going to be big,” says Trade Negotiations Minister Tim Groser. “It's going to be significant, and it's going to help New Zealanders find well paid jobs.”

Eleven countries will be involved in this 15th round of negotiations. Joining New Zealand are the United States, Australia, Singapore, Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia, Chile, Peru, Mexico, and Canada.

But there are many critics, like Lori Wallach, a consumer rights campaigner who has travelled here from the United States.

“It has been so secret and there is now a speedy deadline set,” she says. “We could have an agreement that's been branded for all of us as about expanding exports, new jobs, new threats, and we never see the details, that are devastating, until it's too late.”

“They're not fools,” says Mr Groser. “They realise this is their best chance to wreck this agreement.”

The Trade Negotiations Minister says the talks require discretion, pointing to the tricky negotiations over abolishing farm subsidies.

“Trying to get the US dairy industry to move on something of great importance to us is a very difficult process, and if you expose the drafts to which this process takes place to full public scrutiny, you are going to massively complicate the American negotiators' tasks,” says Mr Groser. “So we need some discretion.”

Critics of the talks are also concerned by a proposal that corporations be allowed to sue governments like New Zealand’s in an international court – a costly and time consuming process.

Sanya Reid Smith, of the Third World Network, is worried by a proposal that would boost American companies' intellectual property rights. For example, it would restrict Pharmac's ability to buy cheaper generic drugs.

“It could buy fewer medicines and subsidies,” she says. “Fewer medicines because it has to pay more per medicine for longer.”

The Government says it won’t agree to anything that undermines Pharmac.

The public is not allowed inside the talks, but opponents of the negotiations say they will be there, outside the negotiations, making their concerns very clear.

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