New Zealand

India: rivers recognized as 'living entities'

The high court in India's Uttarakhand state issued a ruling March 20 recognizing the Ganga (Ganges) and Yamuna as "living entities," officially giving these rivers that have seen long years of ecological damage a legal voice. "This order may be seen as a precedent and come across as strange but it is not any different from the status of being a legal entity as in the case of family trusts or a company," said Raj Panjwani, attorney with India's National Green Tribunal, a body charged with prosecuting enviromental crimes. Under the ruling, the rivers are accorded all rights guaranteed by India's constitution, including the right not to be harmed or destroyed. The ruling, which comes in a public interest litigation brought by the NGT, mandates action by the national government if Uttarakhand state authorities fail to meet their responsibilities regarding the rivers.

New Zealand: Maori elder issues TPP 'veto'

Kingi Taurua, a prominent elder of the Nga Puhi, an iwi (naiton) of New Zealand's Maori people at Te Tii Marae, Waitangi, North Island, has sent a formal "notice of veto" of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement to the embassies and trade departments of its proposed partner countries, and has requested that the Queen of Great Britain intervene on the issue. The document cites the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi and the 1835 Declaration of Independence of New Zealand, and states that the New Zealand government does not have "due authority" to sign the TPP without the agreement of Maori elders, "which [agreement] has not been given." Taurua claims that the TPP would be void in respect of New Zealand's involvement as a result, and should not be signed. Release of the document sent by Taurua, entitled "Notice of Non-Assent to the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement and Exercise of Constitutional Power of Veto in Respect Thereof," came just a day before the TPP was due to be signed in Auckland on Feb. 4 by leaders from countries around the Pacific.

Rival trade pacts vie for Pacific hegemony

In a move being openly portrayed as part of a race with the US-backed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) for hegemony in the Asia-Pacific region, China has set up a working group to study the feasibility of a Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP). The proposal comes ahead of a meeting in May of trade ministers from the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, which China will host. Wang Shouwen, an assistant commerce minister, assured: "We think there will be no conflict between the FTAAP and the region's other FTAs under discussion." But reports note that the news comes just as progress of the TPP has snagged over Japanese insistence on protecting its agricultural and automotive sectors. Chinese President Xi Jinping in October said at the APEC business forum in Indonesia that Beijing will "commit itself to building a trans-Pacific regional cooperation framework that benefits all parties"—an obvious veiled criticism of the TPP. (Tax News, May 5; AFP, April 30)

US, New Zealand restore military cooperation

Well, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has moved on from Japan to New Zealand, where has has secured an agreement to reinstate naval cooperation with the Kiwis. This was broken off in 1985, when New Zealand banned nuclear weapons from its territory, thus closing its ports to nuclear-armed or nuclear-powered US warships. The US shortly retaliated by suspending its defense pact with New Zealand, and barring the Pacific nation's warships from US ports or bases. Now Panetta in Auckland just announced that the ban has been lifted, and military cooperation will be restored. Although New Zealand remains officially a nuclear-free zone, which means nuclear-armed US ships will continue to be barred, that looks like it could be next to go. "While we acknowledge that our countries continue to have differences of opinion in some limited areas, today we have affirmed that we are embarking on a new course in our relationship that will not let those differences stand in the way of greater engagement on security issues,’" Panetta said. (VOA, Sept. 21; NYT, Sept. 20)

Pacific FTAs advance amid Sino-Japanese tensions

It was pretty surreal to hear Leon Panetta warning of an actual war between China and Japan, arriving in Tokyo just as the two Asian powers are facing off over contested islands in the East China Sea. What made it so incongruous is that despite the obvious lingering enmities from World