by MICHAEL OTTO
WELLINGTON — The concerns of New Zealand’s Anglican and Catholic bishops about a lack of transparency in Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations were raised in Parliament in April.
On April 28, Labour’s spokesperson for Trade and Export Growth, David Parker, referred to the bishops’ concerns in a supplementary question to the Minister of Trade.
“Does he accept the criticism from the Anglican and Catholic bishops of New Zealand as to the Government’s lack of transparency [over the TPP] when last week they said; ‘the lack of transparency … [is a matter] of great concern. The strength of unease stretches across the community. Or have they got it wrong too?” Mr Parker asked.
Acting Minister of Trade Todd McClay did not refer to the bishops’ concerns in his response. Instead, he referred to negotiations about trade agreements under previous governments.
In an earlier response, Mr McClay said the process the Government is following under the TPP negotiations is the same as that followed in negotiating a free-trade agreement with China under an earlier government.
“Our negotiations are working to get the best deal for New Zealanders. That objective would not be advanced by publicly declaring New Zealand’s hand to our negotiating partners,” Mr McClay said.
“All Trans-Pacific Partnership members have agreed to keep negotiating texts confidential,”
On April 21, New Zealand’s Anglican and Catholic bishops stated they had written to the Government asking for more transparency concerning the TPP. That was so New Zealanders could better assess its implications.
The bishops noted: “Corporate interests are party to the TPP negotiations and able to influence in favour of their own interests, while people are excluded.”
Although the bishops accepted that secrecy might be the norm in ordinary trade agreements, they stated that the TPP is more than that.
“It has the capacity to reach into domestic economies, and to dictate what happens within a nation’s own political and legal systems.”
The bishops asked the Government to seriously consider making the draft text of the TPP agreement available for public scrutiny.
In March, Bishop Charles Drennan of Palmerston North took part in a public protest over the TPP.