"As anticipated, now that the US has taken control of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement negotiations it has removed the only pretense of transparency - the day-long 'stakeholder' programme where critics can present information and analysis directly to negotiators", says Professor Jane Kelsey, from the Law School at the University of Auckland.
Professor Kelsey has spoken at these events in Auckland, Santiago, Ho Chi Minh City, Melbourne and Chicago on issues of investment, financial services, development issues, state-owned enterprises, and human rights impact assessments.
The US has announced that stakeholders can register and be allocated a 'table', but not make any presentations, at the next round of negotiations in Dallas from 8 to 18 May.
The stakeholder presentations have offered detailed expert analyses of the legal issues and implications of TPPA proposals that many countries' negotiators do not have time, resources or knowledge to develop themselves.
They also provide important support for the positions that countries are taking in the negotiations, especially against the very aggressive demands from the US.
Even though it is voluntary for the negotiators to attend, they often ask for follow-up discussions on the issues and how they might protect their interests - without, of course, the advisers having access to the draft text.
"Clearly, even this limited engagement is being too effective for the US' liking", said Professor Kelsey. "We know the US has been annoyed that other countries' negotiators want to attend these events and has actively dissuaded some from doing so. Now the future rounds of negotiations are being held in the US, it has been able to cancel the programme altogether."
The corporate lobby has the money to buy time with delegations, if they are not given formal access during the negotiations. Critics of the US position on intellectual property and investment have previously hosted breakfasts and lunches, but this is expensive and the last time it was tried in the US the hotel cancelled the booking, presumably at the US government's behest.
Professor Kelsey has asked the lead New Zealand negotiator, David Walker, whether New Zealand has agreed or objected to this latest step to intensify the already obsessive secrecy surrounding the negotiations, or will be prepared to raise the issue, but has yet to hear.
"Without this fig-leaf of transparency and our ability to access and assist the negotiators, the US will have even greater ability to bully them into a deal that can't be unwound once it sees the light of day."
"It is time to insist that New Zealand's government pulls the plug on this travesty that has no place in a 21st century democracy", urged Professor Kelsey.
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