TPP roadshow - send out the clowns

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The Trans Pacific Partnership roadshow meetings opened yesterday, with 150 people joining a spirited session with Trade Negotiations Minister Todd McClay and chief MFAT trade negotiator David Walker.

Attendees included trade wonks Stephen Jacobi, Jane Kelsey, Barry Coates and speakers Phlip Gregan of NZ Winegrowers and Jason Reeves, our trade commissioner to Japan.

Aside from a brief and peaceful protest within the conference room, when four young people laughed, blew bubbles and popped a balloon before leaving tamely, the roadshow covered much ground.  Participants reported afterward that it had helped them understand the TPP structure, although several wondered at the scale of the eventual prize.

McClay noted TPP provided New Zealand with our first free trade deals with the United States, Canada, Japan, Mexico and Peru, and an ongoing strategic opportunity to exert influence over development of regional and global trade rules.

He assured Kelsey the Foreign Affairs Select Committee would be reasonable in accepting late submissions on TPP from her and others. And he intimated he wanted to find ways to be more open about such treaty deals, without giving away negotiating advantages.

David Walker laid out a five point plan from here: Parliament's examination of the Treaty, an 'Outreach Programme' including these roadshows, Legislation, Helping Business to Prepare and Entry into Force for the TPP in up to 2 years.

The roadshow format allowed for almost 90 minutes of Q and A, and covered issues ranging from software and IT innovation to copyright, risks to wineries of being purchased by treaty partner companies, details of the $2.7b mooted annual gain, food safety issues, NZ-skewed procurement rules for  government, sub-government and private companies,and the attraction of TPP to Indonesia, South Korea and China.

Detailed afternoon workshops covered understanding FTAs and tariffs, Intellectual Property and government procurement.

Meanwhile David Walker offered up some possible future developments for the TPP.

He speculated on the possiblity of Indonesia and South Korea joining the pact.

"TPP is a living agreement" he said.

"We expect to continue to evolve it together and to look at the possibilities for new members to be added, and there are provisions that talk about this both for countries from within APEC and beyond to apply and then for how to deal with it.

"Both Korea and Indonesia have expressed interest in certain informal ways. Korea is studying it quite intently.  The Indonesian President talked about his country's interest when he was in Washington recently. 

"The first thing anyone needs to do is to evaluate what's in it for me?'

To a question from Auckland activist Penny Bright on whether the TPP was an economic and political pivot against China, Walker said:

"We have made it very clear throughout this process that this is not an anti-China process. We have an agreement with China that is going very very well.  We are interested in all our partners, including China becoming members of TPP if they themselves are interested. China has continued to follow the TPP throughout - since the conclusion, since the text and signing, China has indicated even more that it is interested.'

Walker also faced an interesting query from the floor on how exporters should navigate and use the right FTA for the right place at the right time, given the TPP overlaps with specific existing agreements.

He gave the example of New Zealand and Singapore's trade relations: 'With Singapore, you have the bilateral, the P4, the Australia-Asean-New Zealand AANZFTA, and TPP. We say all these agreements can coexist and you as an exporter look to take advantage of the one or combination of rules that suit you best."  Officials at MFAT and NZTE could assist.

"There's that famous phrase - We are from the government. We are here to help."

 And it was clear that from some sectors the Government was getting a warm welcome. 

Philip Gregan, of Winegrowers NZ, gave the roadshow an example of potential TPP benefits.

"For us, TPP is going to eliminate tariffs on New Zealand wine being exported the the United States, Canada, Japan, Malaysia and Vietnam.

"We export wine valued at $400m a year to the US, $100m to Canada and $20M to Japan.  All up there should be about $16m in tariff reduction a year.  It is not a huge amount but it is a significant amount.  And I see the MFAT numbers as very conservative."

He tips a further big benefit. "The TPP annexe on wine includes mutual recognition of winemaking practices which will help in Japan, Malaysia and Vietnam."

And Mexico was a big opportunity. "Ambassadors have been saying it for years. With TPP in place a market such as Mexico will become a real chance.'

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