Magazine article New Zealand Management

Tricky Business of Treaties

Magazine article New Zealand Management

Tricky Business of Treaties

Article excerpt

There was a time, not so long ago, when international treaties were negotiated by Foreign Affairs and Trade and signed off by the Government; leaving Parliament (and the average New Zealander) out of the loop entirely. An efficient enough system no doubt, but one which--in the case of treaties which were binding in law--committed New Zealand to legal frameworks which our law makers had had no role in creating.

Parliament successfully demanded that all proposed treaties should in future be submitted to a select committee for scrutiny.

Problem solved--or so it seemed until the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety 2000 turned up. The Protocol seeks to ensure an adequate level of protection in the safe transfer, handling and use of living modified organisms that may have adverse effects on conservation and biological diversity.

In line with the way things are now done, it was referred to the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee on 1 November 2004, along with a national interest analysis prepared by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade; all of which was passed on to the Primary Production Committee who reported back just 11 days later simply saying that "it had no matters to bring to the attention of the House".

And there matters would have rested had not a set of Cabinet policy papers, released under the Official Information Act 1982, popped up showing that the Ministries of Economic Development, Justice, and Research, Science and Technology, and the Treasury, recommended deferring a decision; while the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry considered that ratifying the Protocol was not in New Zealand's interests. …

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