Ardern and Peters at centre of TPP confusion
By Richard Harman (author)
Confusion last night seemed to surround the Comprehensive Progressive Agreement on the Trans Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) unveiled over the weekend in Viet Nam.
NZ First Leader, Winston Peters, is refusing to say whether his party will support the CPTPP legislation the Government intends to bring to Parliament once the final details of the agreement have been negotiated even though the Greens can say they oppose it.
Meanwhile, there are questions about why Jacinda Ardern announced that Australia and New Zealand had agreed not to use Investor-State Dispute Settlement clauses against each other when it has turned out the National Government had written that into the original TPP.
And that raises a question as to why, when there was widespread opposition to the ISDS clauses, National never bothered to highlight that they did not apply to Australian investment in New Zealand which accounts for 82% of all CPTPP members' investment here.
Once again, it is possible to speculate that National was playing domestic politics with the TPP and was reluctant to concede the fact that even it had concerns about the ISDS clauses.
The situation now is that Trade Minister David Parker has said that he is now focussed on”working with our partner countries towards signature.”
That was enough for the Greens yesterday who announced they would not support any legislation.
That means the Government will now have to take up National’s offer to support them on the CPTPP.
In that sense, NZ First's vote becomes irrelevant because even if they supported the legislation, Labour would still need National to make up for the Greens.
Peters texted POLITIK to say: “We don’t have a deal yet. Will answer when we do. Does that sound logical?”
POLITIK has spoken to one NZ First MP who said that they would vote for the agreement because they were in coalition with Labour.
Peters refuses to confirm that.
But reaction yesterday from across the political spectrum all acknowledged that there is as good as a deal on the table.
“The new proposed deal, which came out of the weekend’s talks, still contains key ISDS concessions to corporations that put our democracy at risk, so our position remains the same,” said Green Party trade spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman.
“The Green Party will be seeking to introduce new measures that require all trade agreements in the future to be part of the solution to climate change, global and local inequality and the protection of human rights.
“Standing in opposition to the TPPA does not make a difference to our relationship with Labour. Indeed it is a sign of the strength of that relationship that we can respectfully disagree on an important issue like the TPPA but still get on with the business of government.”
Meanwhile, controversy has begun to break out over Labour's claims to have modified the agreement.
Parker’s statement on Sunday said: “It (the CPTPP) preserves New Zealand’s right to regulate in the public interest.
“We have also retained the reciprocal agreement with Australia, which is the source of 80 per cent of our overseas investment from this new grouping, that ISDS clauses will not apply between our countries.
“We continue to seek similar agreements with the other countries in this new Agreement.”
Strictly speaking, Parker is correct. By using the word "retained," he acknowledges that the agreement not to use the ISDS clauses has been in existence for some time.
That is confirmed in a little-noticed section in the TPP National Interest Analysis produced by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade in January last year which said: “Consistent with ANZCERTA and the Australia-ASEAN-New Zealand FTA, TPP’s ISDS provisions would not apply between New Zealand and Australia. “
Notice of this was posted as an “associated document” to the TPP on the MFAT website in late 2015.
But speaking in Sydney on November 5, after her meeting with Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern appeared to suggest that the pair had exchanged letters agreeing not to invoke ISDS procedures against each other.
“We discussed a signed letter on the ISDS clauses which we see as being mutually beneficial," she said.
“That acknowledges our positions on ISDS – at least between each other.”
The exchange of letters (if it was new) was not necessary; MFAT had already established that the ISDS clauses did not apply to Australian investment in New Zealand.
Nevertheless business yesterday was pleased with what had happened in Viet Nam.
BusinessNZ said it welcomed progress towards the CPTPP.
CEO Kirk Hope said a successful conclusion to negotiations would mean new income and jobs in New Zealand.
"This is a great outcome for not just the primary sector but all New Zealanders. said Andrew Hoggard, Federated Farmers National Vice President.
"Trade deals like this ensure we are on an equal footing globally and particularly with the likes of Australia and the European Union, while presenting us with immense opportunities as an exporting country, opening up the markets of Japan, Mexico, Peru and Canada.
"For example, frozen beef into Japan currently faces a 50 percent tariff while Australia only faces a tariff of 22 percent.”
But as Peters was emphasising last night, the final agreement has yet to be drafted.
Only then will he make his mind up and only then will we really know how much support the agreement will get outside Parliament.