In Question Time in Tuesday Todd McLay, speaking for the Minsiter of Trade, four times avoided answering a reopeated question from Russel orman on the TPP. See Todd McClay: arrogant stonewalling.
He was prepared for a repeat of Norman’s line of questioning yesterday and had answers ready.
7. Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Green) to the Minister of Trade : Will the New Zealand Parliament be able to modify the text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement if the Government signs the TPPA; and is it Parliament or Cabinet that ratifies the TPPA?
Hon TODD McCLAY (Acting Minister of Trade): I welcome the question from the member. The Cabinet Manual and the Standing Orders set out the procedure for Parliament’s examination of international treaties, and, as with all international treaties, Parliament is not able to amend parts of a treaty. However, Parliament has significant involvement prior to ratification of an agreement. Although it is the executive that ratifies treaties, Parliament has an important role to play in the treaty examination process. The executive will only ratify a free-trade agreement after Parliament’s completion of treaty examinations.
Dr Russel Norman : So would a correct summary of the Minister’s answer be that the New Zealand Parliament is not able to modify the text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement once the Government has signed it, and that it is Cabinet, not Parliament, that ratifies the treaty?
Hon TODD McCLAY : As with my first answer, the rules around this, in so far as the Cabinet Manual and the Standing Orders are concerned, are clear. But it is correct to say that no one single country can amend an agreement unilaterally and therefore not one of the 12 countries can amend the agreement, should agreement on the Trans-Pacific Partnership be reached. This is the same with agreements that we sign up to under the World Trade Organization and the UN. It is also important, I think, to note that for New Zealand the reason this is something that is in place is so that any hard-fought gains that we receive through that negotiation cannot be changed following agreement.
Dr Russel Norman : Does it strike him as a particularly democratic process when the elected members of the House of Representatives have no ability to influence the negotiation because it is done in secret, elected MPs cannot modify the agreement once it has been signed in secret by the Government, and nor does Parliament have any decisive say over whether New Zealand ratifies the agreement?
Hon TODD McCLAY : It strikes me that this is the same procedure that has been followed for a number of agreements that have gone through this Parliament—indeed, it is the same procedure that took place in the China free-trade agreement, the Hong Kong agreement, and, most recently, the Korean agreement. But I would say, as has been publicly stated, that if the Trans-Pacific Partnership is agreed, we are likely to see a different procedure in the way that it is followed through in this Parliament than was the case with China. It will be close to the Korean agreement, where the agreement was available prior to signing. Certainly, the parliamentary process must be finished before ratification will take place.
Dr Russel Norman : Has he seen the statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s lead negotiator on the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, which said that all explanatory material from the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, such as briefings to Ministers, would be kept secret for 4 years after the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement comes into force; and will not keeping that material secret make it very difficult for ordinary New Zealanders to get their heads around the detail of the treaty, which is the size of a book and is written in—
Mr SPEAKER : Order! The Hon Todd McClay—either of those two supplementary questions.
Hon TODD McCLAY : The procedure that will be followed here is that the agreement will be available for the honourable member, others in this Parliament, and the public to see prior to signature. We will need to follow the same procedure that has been in place in this Parliament for all other agreements through the treaty examination procedures before ratification takes place. Our Minister of Trade is negotiating the very best deal possible for New Zealand. The Government has said that it will sign up to the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement only if it is in the best interests of New Zealand. I think the public will have plenty of time to go over the very detailed text of this agreement before that member gets to cast further doubt upon it.
Dr Russel Norman : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was specifically about the explanatory material—
Mr SPEAKER : Order! No, I listened very carefully to the question. It was not specific enough; in fact, there were at least two questions in the question. I cannot help the member if he does not ask a concise question to get the answer that might be more satisfactory to him.
Even Danyl Mclauchlan sees the problem with Norman’s approach.
Danyl Mclauchlan @danylmc
If Parliament could modify a trade agreement wouldn’t all the signatories do that and trade agreements be completely pointless?
Yes. The Green approach to trade deals – have all negotiating positions publicised, then when reaching an agreement putting the treaty back to the New Zealand Parliament to discuss, then the Greens can discuss it internally, then Greens can organise protest marches and petitions against it, then if Parliament agrees to ratify the agreement Greens can organise a ‘Citizen’ initiated referendum and insist that if the public are against the treaty we should withdraw, then the Greens still only get about 11% in the next election.
Graeme Edgeler @GraemeEdgeler
It’s why the US negotiators needed fast track authority :-)
Rob Hosking @robhosking
@danylmc Yeah. This is godawfully silly stuff. Student Union politics of the worst kind.
Norman is showing the lack of experience Greens have of being in Government – it’s fine to have democratic ideals, but the reality of running a country means that the Green way isn’t necessarily the best way, nor a way that would work.
Norman must know that the Green way would make it virtualy impossible to reach any meaningful trade agreements.
Good to see that McLay learnt from his poor responses the previous day.