National tries to drive wedge into coalition
By Richard Harman (author)
The Opposition is now clearly seeking to drive a wedge into the Government over the TPP.
The former Trade Minister Todd McClay yesterday, speaking in the Address in Reply debate, said National was ready to support Labour if it wanted to introduce legislation to allow the so-called TPP11 to go ahead if it could not get support from NZ First and the Greens.
Such a move would almost certainly damage Labour among its base who generally ardently oppose the TPP.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has not yet confirmed that she will sign the agreement.
And NZ First leader, Winston Peters, was also unwilling to confirm what position his party would take.
Speaking last night from Viet Nam he said talks there were still proceeding on the agreement.
But there have been consistent hits from both the Greens and NZ First that they would find supporting the agreement regardless of any changes that Trade Minister David Parker might negotiate on the sidelines of APEC next week.
NZ First’s Deputy Leader, Ron Mark, filling In for Peters said yesterday in Parliament’s Address in Reply debate that NZ First would ensure that in any future trade agreements the coalition Government launched, “the protection of New Zealand's sovereignty and its ability to determine its own future, free of coercion by global entities who care nothing for us, is front and centre.”
Mark’s comments on sovereignty were picked up by NZX First MP, Clayton Mitchell, who interjected during McClay’s speech on the TPP that “you don't have to give up your sovereignty to have a trade agreement.”
McClay responded: “The challenge that he has is, irrespective of what he thinks about trade, as part of a coalition Government, he will have to actually vote for these sorts of things.”
“But I want the Government to know, when they go away, that they have the support of this Parliament and they have a majority in this Parliament, because that New Zealand First member has just indicated that he won't support trade," said McClay.
“Of course, the Greens have never supported a trade agreement in this Parliament.
“New Zealand First has never supported a trade deal in this Parliament."
McClay’s assertion that the Government would vote for any legislation Labour wanted to introduce to implement the TPP is hardly likely to be regarded as much help by Labour.
Not only does it face difficulties convincing its partners in the Government of any need to vote for the TPP, but on its left, there is considerable suspicion about its motives.
On the left wing “Stabnrad” website there have been a number of posts warning Labour that if it signs the deal and relies on National for support to get any legislation passed, it will lose votes from its base.
Nevertheless, there are strong hints that the Government is moving towards signing the agreement.
The exchange of letters with Australia at the weekend disavowing usage of the Investor-State Dispute Settlement clauses was a strong indication that the Government is moving towards a signature.
It seems that Ardern’s reluctance to discuss any of the detail of the TPP negotiations in public is prompted as much by her need to keep the three parties of the Government together as giving away New Zealand's negotiating position to the other TPP11 countries.
However, the Government can argue that by getting the agreement with Australia it has accounted for 82% of the TPP countries' foreign investment in New Zealand according to NZTE figures showing total foreign direct investment up to March 2016.
And there are hints that other countries may be prepared to grant New Zealand concessions on the ISDS clauses.
Ardern has said the Government had other tools to manage its opposition to ISDS clause apart from exchanging letters.
The Singapore-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement, for example, has a clause which states an investment dispute can be referred to arbitration, but that the state being sued can withhold its consent on a case-by-case basis.
Under their coalition agreement with the Government, NZ First should theoretically support all Government Bills.
But their agreement contains an “agree to disagree” clause which frees them “to express alternative views publicly, and in Parliament".
The Greens confidence and supply agreement allows them to vote freely on most legislation.
However, on such a contentious matter as the TPP among left-wing voters in general, Labour would be very brave to rely on National to get any legislation passed.