Ardern's secret diplomacy revealed

: Finance Minister Grant Robertson and PM Jacinda Ardern answer media questions after the Caucus retreat.
 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has spent some of her holiday time on the phone to her Canadian counterpart, Justin Trudeau, lobbying him to end his objections to the CPTPP.

Well placed Beehive sources say both Ardern and Trade Minister, David Parker, have been working with their Canadian counterparts to persuade them to get them to agree to sign up to the new TPP --- the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership. (CPTPP)

Trade officials from TPP nations are to meet in Japan this week to continue the push to get the agreement completed and there is some optimism within the Beehive that that meeting may agree to a signing in March, in part because of the New Zealand lobbying of the Canadians who have been the major holdouts on an early signing.

While Parker and Ardern will win widespread support from business and agricultural groups in New Zealand for pursuing the TPP free trade agenda, they may also face objections from the left.

The leading opponent of the TPP and the CPTPP, Professor Jane Kelsey, of the Auckland University Law School, has persistently supported Canada's objections to the TPP and called on the Ardern Government to support them.

During negotiations for the original TPP, the U.S. demanded that Canada abandon its rights to require investment in Canadian media content development and to restrict access to foreign-made online content.

With the U.S. gone, Canada demanded this provision be suspended.

But other countries have criticized the move, arguing it goes against their efforts to liberalize trade.

Canada also has objections to rules of origin requirements for auto components in the CPTPP.

But the Beehive sources say that Trudeau may be moderating his opinion as he faces the prospect of major difficulties with the North American Free Trade Agreement which President Trump wants either renegotiated or scrapped.

However, the TPP move is not the only area where Labour appears to be keeping an eye on business opinion.

Though Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced yesterday at the wind up of the party's Caucus retreat in Martinborough that the Government would soon implement a number of employment law changes, she said the proposed fair pay agreements would not be included in the new legislation.

The agreements would require the mandatory negotiation of minimum employment standards in some industries.

"I will rule out that fair pay agreements are not a part of that piece of work,  “she told reporters.

“We have long flagged that that is something that we need to spend extra time working alongside both our union and business communities to make sure we get that right.”

While that delay acknowledges business concerns about the fair pay agreements, the moves being planned to be implemented soon will include replacing National's 90-day ‘fire at will' law.

Employees will now be given reasons for dismissal and disputes will be heard within three weeks of being lodged. Other moves are likely to restore reinstatement as the primary remedy when an employee has been unjustifiably dismissed; restore the right to rest and meal breaks at work and restore protections for vulnerable workers in cases where the sale or transfer of business is contemplated, or where outsourcing of jobs is proposed.

Asked about the impact of these on business, the Prime Minister said none of the moves would come as a surprise because they had long been part of Labour’s agenda and had been raised at the time the National Government introduced the policies.

“And out spokesperson, our Minister, has been working alongside the business community ion the measures we will be bringing forward.”

Another indication of how the new Government is maintaining a relatively orthodox position on thee economy came with Ardern’s reaction to the Treasury error which means the promise to remove 88,000 children from poverty cannot now be guaranteed.

“Eighty-eight thousand was never a target, “she said.

“I was just a projection.

"So what we will do with this package is still reach 380,000 families but what we don't have a clear picture of is how many of those families have children in poverty.

“The package will not change.”

That maybe because the pressure on the budget process means that the package cannot change; there may simply not be enough fiscal headroom to expand expenditure on it.

But if the Prime Minister was nodding to the conservative forces in the economy she was also nodding to the Labour Party with promises of the release of the terms of reference tomorrow for an inquiry into the mental health system – something that Labour campaigned on and which it appeared to gain ground on over National.

And she got in a gentle dig at Bill English’s Social Investment programme with a reference to National's target of having 85% of school pupils complete NCEA Level 2.

"But did that reduce the number of young people who weren't going on to anything after that? “she asked. Instead, she said Labour would be ambitious with Public Service targets, but it would take a little bit of time to develop them.

What all this shows is that Labour is now transitioning to being the Government --- its first 100 days expires on February 3, and with that most of thethe, campaign promises it Labour made will be somewhere in the legislative or executive system.

Now the challenge will be to maintain its support from both the left and the right.

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