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Last Monday the Waitangi Tribunal began proceedings for a week-long inquiry into the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA).
The Waitangi Tribunal announced in December, three months before the deal was signed in February, that there was a just cause to carry out an urgent inquiry, after there a resounding consensus within the Māori community that the trade deal will not protect their interests.
The proceedings covered a broad range of topics including the economic interests of Māori, environmental protections, and most importantly, the Treaty of Waitangi and the issue of Māori sovereignty.
Nine complaints were heard during the inquiry, mostly coming from iwi in the upper North Island.
On the first day of proceedings, Auckland University Professors Jane Kelsey and Dr Papaarangi Reid raised issue with the TPPA’s potential impact on the health sector, stating that any changes to the price and availability of non-generic medicines would directly create an inequality in society for Māori and those in lower socioeconomic areas.
Later in the week, the Tribunal heard from Māori activist and former politician Hone Harawira, Māori Council co-chairman Maanu Paul, and Māori Chair for the Te Tai Tokerau district, Rihari Dargaville.
Victoria University law lecturer and Treaty of Waitangi expert Carwyn Jones told Salient the investigation was likely to take several months. Following the release of recommendations, he said it was likely the Government will choose to engage and consult with Māori, because it was a straightforward option that would paint them in a positive light without requiring them to actually change anything.
The inquiry came as bad timing for the government, with the nationwide TPPA roadshow continuing in the same week, in Dunedin on March 14, and finishing up in Wellington on March 18.
The government are standing by their statement that the TPPA will not diminish Māori rights, but the truth of this will be unclear until the deal is ratified.
At the end of the inquiry process, the Waitangi Tribunal will have issued a series of non-binding recommendations to the Crown on how to proceed.
There is no requirement for the government to adhere to or rectify any concerns that are raised from the inquiry process.