WELLINGTON, Nov. 30 (Xinhua) -- More than 500 delegates from 11 countries have begun arriving in Auckland as the city prepares to host the 15th round of negotiations over the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement.
New Zealand Trade Minister Tim Groser Friday welcomed the representatives to the talks, which will run behind closed doors from Dec. 3 to 12.
"TPP participants already take around 38 percent of our exports and include our largest services and international procurement markets," Groser said in a statement.
"A comprehensive 21st Century agreement would provide many more opportunities to New Zealand businesses to grow their trade and investment footprint in the region."
The New Zealand government's free-trade agenda was part of its wider program to build a more productive and competitive economy that would help New Zealand businesses grow, create jobs and sell more of their products and services around the world, said Groser.
Collectively the 11 TPP economies had a total population of 650 million people and represent around 21 trillion U.S. dollars in GDP.
The round followed last week's meeting in Phnom Penh where seven TPP leaders, including New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, expressed a common interest to seek to conclude a high-quality deal in 2013.
Canada and Mexico would take part in the TPP negotiations for the first time in Auckland.
"Their participation represents a key step towards a regional free trade agreement and reinforces TPP's potential as a pathway to towards increased trade and economic integration around the Asia-Pacific," Groser said.
Last week in Cambodia, Key also backed a new Asian free trade agreement that critics said presented an obvious conflict with Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) talks.
Key joined other leaders from Asian countries to launch negotiations for a 16-nation Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) that would include the 10 ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) states, together with Australia, China, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea and New Zealand.
Critics have said the United States is using the 11-nation TPP talks as a vehicle to contain China's economic growth in the Pacific, while the RCEP includes China and neighboring emerging economy India.
Auckland University law professor and prominent TPP critic Jane Kelsey said Key needed "a reality check" if he really believed New Zealand could maintain a balance between the TPP and the RCEP.
"The U.S.-dominated Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement is pitted against the proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership that pivots around China as well as India," Kelsey said in a statement on Nov. 21.
New Zealand Trade Minister Tim Groser had promised that New Zealand would walk away if the TPP became an exercise in "China- bashing," but this promise was "more hollow by the day," she said, describing the TPP as "a geo-political pact."
"There is a serious risk that participating governments will sign up for strategic reasons to a text that surrenders their domestic economies and grants undue influence over their policy decisions to powerful, largely U.S., corporate interests," said Kelsey.
The current TPP trade agreement between Brunei, Chile, Singapore and New Zealand came into force in 2006, but the United States, Australia, Peru, Vietnam, Malaysia, Canada and Mexico have joined negotiations to expand the agreement.
Japan announced its interest in joining the TPP in 2010, when the negotiations began, and Thailand voiced its interest in joining last week.
As well as the secrecy of the talks and the proposed pact, other controversial aspects of the TPP include copyright and patent clauses, and "investor-state" clauses that would allow large corporations to sue governments over changes in labor, health, environment and other laws if their business was affected.
New Zealand became the first developed nation to sign a free trade agreement with China in 2008.