The urgent Waitangi Tribunal hearing on certain aspects of New Zealand's accession to the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) has been provisionally set down for March 2016. For more background on these claims, see our related articles.
The claimants had hoped for a hearing this year, so that the Crown could consider the Tribunal's report when deciding whether to sign the TPPA. However, the Tribunal is of the view that it could not consider and report on such a complex matter before Cabinet's decision on whether to sign the TPPA (likely to be made by around February next year).
In its hearing, the Tribunal will consider whether:
- the Treaty of Waitangi exception clause is an effective protection of Māori interests
- what Māori engagement and input is now required before the TPPA is ratified by the Crown.
The parties are now to refine the issues before the Tribunal. It is likely that the effectiveness of the Treaty of Waitangi exception clause will be tested against a series of case studies. The claimants have suggested case studies relating to the issues of fracking, affordable medicines (in light of the protection the TPPA provides for biologic pharmaceuticals), and Māori rights to water.
The claimants and the Crown have each engaged expert witnesses, and the Tribunal is also to commission evidence from an independent expert.