Trans-Pacific Partnership talks underway

ANDREA FOX
Last updated 17:04 06/12/2010

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An Asia-Pacific region trade agreement or Trans-Pacific Partnership would not be a "Brussels-type" free-trade document with a single model for trade harmonisation, says New Zealand's chief negotiator.

Mark Sinclair told media on the first day of five-day talks in Auckland between nine countries that are negotiating the TPP, that the goal for the Auckland talks is to make maximum progress on ''substance''.

It is the fourth round of negotiations for a proposed trade alliance between New Zealand, Australia, the US, Chile, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore and Peru.

New Zealand has around 30 negotiators at the talks while the other countries have 300 between them.

Most negotiators were now working on the text, and the aim was to finish the week with well-developed text in most areas, Sinclair said.

"I expect the model we follow will be different to a Brussels type, where there is one model for harmonisation. That is not the way we do things in this region."

He suggested any Asia-Pacific agreement that might result would be of the "softer" kind such as New Zealand has with Australia.

Five more rounds of talks are scheduled for next year.

The TPP proposal has been labelled a "new generation" agreement,  which reflects the increasing complexity of doing business between countries.

With its attention to financial services and investment, intellectual property and remedies between regional countries it has attracted protests from civil liberty groups concerned that it will extend rights and privileges to foreign investors while marginalised a democratically-elected New Zealand's government right to manage and regulate the economy.

Sinclair refused to discuss national positions or differences at the negotiating table but there was "a good tone around the room" and a "very real commitment" from participants.

Nor would he discuss details about New Zealand's position in relation to its number one interest at the negotiating table - better access to markets for our dairy industry.

US dairying interests are strongly opposed to a TPP including dairy trade.

Yesterday a leaked negotiating document exposed a fundamental conflict between the US and New Zealand positions on intellectual property.

US consumer advocacy group Public Citizen released the confidential New Zealand paper.

Auckland University law professor Jane Kelsey, who represents civil society groups alarmed about the implications of a TPP on New Zealand, welcomed the leaked paper as "hugely significant".

She says in the paper, the New Zealand government rebuffed one of the core pillars of recent US free trade agreements, far reaching intellectual property chapters that guarantee ever higher and stricter monopoly rights to US drug companies, entertainment industry and IT and technology sector.

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Sinclair would not discuss the release of the secret paper.

He said a feature of the TPP process has been the level of stakeholder involvement.

More than 100 stakeholders are registered at the Auckland talks.

They include Fonterra, the NZ-US Council, FinSec and the Council of Trade Unions.

There were calls today from some stakeholders for the text of the Auckland negotiations to be released so the public knows what the New Zealand government is planning and agreeing to on behalf of Kiwis.

But some stakeholders such as NZ-US Business Council executive director Stephen Jacobi said it would undermine any TPP to release draft text.

- BusinessDay.co.nz

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