Council wades into trade debate

21:38, Dec 12 2013

The long-running negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership are not something that has aroused widespread interest.

But Greater Wellington Regional Council decided yesterday that the issue was worth spending its time debating.

Several councillors shared the concerns of Green councillor Paul Bruce about a "lack of information" around the negotiations, and what any deal might mean for local government.

It agreed to ask the Government to oppose any part of a deal that would curtail the way it does business.

Councillor Prue Lamason said it was not the council's place to get involved in the Government's trade negotiations, and she criticised Mr Bruce for toeing the Green Party line. "As far as I can remember, we've never commented on Government legislation before."

But Sue Kedgley, a former Green MP, said it was astonishing that the council was being kept in the dark, given that a trade deal could seriously alter the way it operated. "We have an obligation to express our concern."

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The Government is currently negotiating with 12 countries, including the United States, Australia, Japan and Malaysia. Opposition parties have been highly critical of the secrecy surrounding the talks, claiming Kiwis have a right to know what the Government has put on the table.

Mr Bruce said a deal could prevent the council from favouring local suppliers over international ones, or requiring suppliers to meet certain conditions, such as paying staff a living wage.

It agreed to ask the Government to oppose any part of a Pacific-wide trade deal that would curtail the way it does business.

Councillors also voted to express their concern at not knowing what impact any such agreement would have on local government.

Several councillors shared the anxiety of Green councillor Paul Bruce, who said the council could be prevented from favouring local suppliers over international ones, or requiring suppliers to meet certain conditions, such as paying staff a living wage.

The Government is currently negotiating with 12 countries, including the United States, Australia, Japan and Malaysia, to get a deal off the ground.

Sue Kedgley, a former Green MP, was one of a number of regional councillors who called for greater transparency from the Government yesterday.

It was astonishing that Greater Wellington was being kept in the dark, given the trade deal could seriously alter the way it operates. "We have an obligation to express our concern."

Council chairwoman Fran Wilde said that, even if the Cabinet signed the agreement, it would not be ratified until it had been looked at by the foreign affairs, defence and trade select committee and passed by Parliament.

But Ms Kedgley shared the view of Auckland University law professor Jane Kelsey who said Parliament would not be able to change the deal once it was signed.

Paul Swain, a former Labour Cabinet minister, said he had no issue with the secrecy of the negotiations because that was common practice.

He also did not support the idea that local suppliers should be protected at any cost, because the council's job was to get the best deal possible for ratepayers.

He said it was not the council's place to get involved in the Government's trade negotiations and she criticised Mr Bruce for towing the Green Party line.

A spokeswoman for Trade Minister Tim Groser said he was in Jakarta yesterday and was unable to comment on the council's decision.

The Dominion Post