Wednesday, 10 February 2016

11 February 2016

I agree with the Labour Party on the TPP.

Well, some of what it is saying anyway. Actually, to be more accurate, some of what Andrew Little is saying, because everyone else in his Caucus seems to be trying to cover all sides of the argument, all of the time.

No, I agree with Andrew Little when he says it would be crazy for New Zealand to pull out of the TPP once it takes effect. He is absolutely right.

Over the summer period, I took the opportunity to listen quietly to what real New Zealanders, not the vocal protestors, were saying. Their message is mixed. They hear the government’s story about the trade opportunities arising from the TPP, and while, on balance, they are a little sceptical, they tend to see that as positive. They do worry about sovereignty issues, but note that every agreement we have signed up to, including membership of the United Nations under Peter Fraser and the World Health Organisation, has involved sovereignty issues, and there has never been a problem. In any case, they tend to accept the view that New Zealand will make its own mind up if any clashes arise.

Some have seen it as ironic that when it came to issues like sending troops to Iraq, New Zealand did not do so, because there was no United Nations mandate in place, and we believed in collective action, and the Labour government of the time was insisting – correctly in my view – on there being such a mandate as a condition of its participation. Others have wanted to know how come it was acceptable for New Zealand to take Australia to the World Trade Organisation over its restrictions on our apple exports, but not acceptable for similar provisions to apply here.

A lot of scorn has been heaped upon academics like Jane Kelsey for their role in the debate. Part of that seems to me to be the narrow anti-intellectual bias of some New Zealanders, which is a pity, but I did hear one comment to the effect that never has someone said so much, for so little impact! (It is fun what one hears when sitting quietly in a café.)

People quite like Andrew Little’s line that we are a country built on free trade. They snigger a bit though at the verbal gymnastics that have seen him go through saying that on the one hand, while saying he opposes TPP on the other, but would not stop it if he won office.

But the common point all the discussions I have heard seemed to end up on was what happens if the TPP proceeds, and New Zealand is not part of it. How does that help our exporters, and what will it do to the cost of imports? The xeonophobes – who certainly do not like the TPP – splutter that not being part of it might make even us more reliant on China.

To me, it all sounds a little like the 1980s restructuring. No-one at the time particularly liked it, but most people knew in their heart of hearts that it had to happen. The then Labour government got grudging support for staying the course. Only when it flip-flopped, did it lose public goodwill. That is the lesson for the current government on the TPP. Stay the course, capitalise on the hard yards already made, and lock in the benefits. After all, as Andrew Little has made very clear, the TPP is here to stay. 





  1. A thoughtful commentary. I have a big problem with the TPP: I don't know what it is. When something like this is kept so secret (to the extent that we found out it was to be signed in New Zealand from the Chileans) I begin to wonder what it is that I'm not supposed to see. There are good arguments for and against the TPP and all that it entails, but how can you properly discuss something that is a secret. The principles of what is being discussed should always be public, even if the details of the discussion are not. And once discussed and agreed, why then a need for secrecy? When those with vested interests tell me to just trust them, I'm immediately suspicious, particularly when it is politicians doing the asking. So my opposition to the TPP is on the basis that you're asking for my agreement without providing me the information to form a judgement.

  2. The full TPP document is not secret at all and is publicly available on the MFAT website. Go have a read.

  3. It is not secret now, but that is after the fact. It is also somewhat unapproachable both in size and content. Much of the language is outside my competence to assess and I don't have time enough to work my way through the whole thing. If you advocate for a change in the status quo, you have a responsibility to show how your changes are for the better. It is not acceptable to require others to show how and why what you propose is problematic while you withhold most of the information. There are digests, but experts who've examined these seem to have conflicting views on how accurately they reflect what is in the canonical documents.