14 Jun 2012

NZ 'unlikely' to support special TPP deal for Australia

11:45 pm on 14 June 2012

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key says it is unlikely the Government will support any special deal for Australia in a Trans-Pacific trade agreement.

A draft of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) talks has been leaked by American consumer advocacy group Public Citizen and indicates New Zealand has agreed to give foreign investors the right to sue the Government in overseas courts for policies which cause them financial losses.

The draft text shows that Australia refused to sign up to the same investor rights.

The nine countries involved in the TPP are Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.

Mr Key refused to talk about the details of the deal on Thursday, but thinks all nine countries would sign up to the same terms.

"In the end, the way these things work out is that there's a give-and-take on all parts and you get to some final document, hopefully, that everyone can sign up to. But an exclusion solely for Australia, not for everybody else, is unlikely to be something that we would support."

The Green Party has also weighed in to the trade deal, saying Trade Minister Tim Groser is being disingenuous by claiming that New Zealand would not sign the pact if it hurts the ability of future governments to legislate in the public interest.

Mr Groser says although he has not seen the text of the leaked agreement, he expects it to have clauses which allow governments to pass public health and environmental laws without being sued.

But Greens co-leader Russel Norman says the tribunals that would hear such cases could take a different interpretation.

"Even though there are these carve-outs where, in theory, you're allowed to introduce laws to protect the environment, in practice it is the international tribunals that make the decision as to whether that particular law is acceptable or not.

"In many cases, they've decided it is not acceptable and the laws have been struck down."

Former Trade Minister Jim Sutton says similar provisions were in the trade deal with China and can help protect New Zealand investments overseas. However, Dr Norman believes New Zealand should join Australia and not support them.

Critic Jane Kelsey says you could drive a bus through the exemptions protecting governments under the draft Trans-Pacific Partnership. Professor Kelsey, of Auckland University law faculty, says that the documents confirm the worst fears of TPP opponents.

But New Zealand-United States Council executive director Stephen Jacobi says in most cases, the Government will be protected against lawsuits by foreign investors.

Anti-smoking group ASH says the leaked trade agreement does have some protections for tobacco control measures. Communications manager Michael Coulhan says the text does include some allowances for governments to legislate in the interests of public health without being sued.

However, Mr Coulhan says it does not go as far as some of New Zealand's previous trade deals which specifically exclude tobacco control measures from investor actions.