NZ could be sued by overseas companies - leaked TPPA docs
New Zealand governments could be open to legal action from foreign companies, according to leaked documents from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPPA) negotiations.
WikiLeaks has revealed negotiators from 12 different countries are close to agreement on a wide-ranging free-trade deal that would cover about 40 per cent of the world economy.
But the leaking of one chapter that specifically applied to investor-state rules appeared to show multinational corporations could challenge domestic laws if they impeded their rights as investors.
That meant health, environment and public welfare regulation, including plain tobacco packaging legislation, could be open for challenge from largely US-based corporations, if the agreement goes through.
Green Party trade spokesman James Shaw said National was governing "in the interest of foreign companies at the expense of local interests".
He called on Prime Minister John Key to make the details of the agreement public.
"The prime minister needs to say if New Zealand's negotiators are supportive of giving foreign corporations extra rights under this agreement compared to other free trade agreements," Shaw said.
"This agreement could put a massive handbrake on domestic law-making. If those companies don't like us legislating in our national interest they can sue us."
Key has just returned from a trade trip to Korea and Japan. He signed a free-trade agreement in Korea and the TPPA was high on the discussion list with Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
"If New Zealanders vote for greater environmental protections or rules to assist local business, we should be able to do that," Shaw said.
"But under these rules foreign companies can trump the public's vote.
"The leaked documents show that there are provisions for setting up a special court which multinational corporations can use to sue countries, such as New Zealand, for breaching the TPPA.
"Cases in these special courts overseas have seen governments have to pay companies millions of dollars. These courts can have a chilling effect on local democracy.
"New Zealand should not be dictated by a special court set up for companies that has no domestic accountability or oversight."
Deputy Prime Minister Bill English would not be drawn on the documents.
"I can't comment on the chapter, but it's not a new issue," he said.
"Investor statements have often been a part of free-trade agreements so I'd have to look at the chapter before I could comment."
University of Auckland professor and TPPA critic Jane Kelsey said the text confirmed her "worst fears".
"There is no code of conduct, no appeals, no accountability of the private individuals who pass judgement on crucial matters of public policy, and no effective exceptions to protect the right of the Government to regulate in the national interest," she said.
A secret draft chapter of the TPPA, published by WikiLeaks on Thursday, shows the Government is prepared to accept a controversial Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) process if "certain conditions" are met.
That meant foreign companies would have the ability to directly sue governments in extrajudicial ISDS tribunals over domestic policies that foreign firms claimed violated their investor rights.
This could have significant implications for intellectual property, and sovereign rights in New Zealand. Critics have said the deal could help multinational movie and music industries, software giants and pharmaceutical manufacturers to maintain and increase prices.
Health professionals in particular, are concerned the agreement could allow US pharmaceutical companies to raise obstacles to the introduction of generic drugs and medicines in New Zealand.
Trade officials from the US and 11 other Pacific Rim nations – New Zealand, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Australia, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam – are engaged in intensive, closed-door negotiations on the TPPA, and are expected to finish in the next few months.