Labour says jury's out on supporting TPP
By Pattrick Smellie
Oct. 6 (BusinessDesk) - Senior Labour Party politicians are waiting for the detail of the Trans Pacific Partnership trade and investment pact before declaring whether it breaches any of the five "bottom lines" the party says the TPP must meet before deciding whether to maintain the long-standing practice of bi-partisan political support for trade deals.
Written statements from acting Labour leader Annette King and finance spokesman Grant Robertson both cited the bottom lines without saying they had been breached.
"Too early to be sure," said Robertson in answer to a texted question from BusinessDesk. "On land/housing sales, it doesn't look good, with Aussie-style ban on purchase of existing houses seemingly prevented."
Labour's policy does not seek the abilty to "ban" land sales to foreigners, saying it wants to see a deal that allows the New Zealand government to maintain "the right to restrict sales of farm land and housing to non-resident foreigner buyers".
However, Labour's housing spokesman Phil Twyford has spoken of wanting to ban house sales to foreign buyers in the way that Australia does, where the purchaser is only permitted to buy land if they are building a new home.
Leader Andrew Little is on holiday and has not commented and the party's trade spokesman, David Parker, is also out of the country.
It is clear Labour will wait for the detail of the TPP agreement to be released before finalising its position, having been rocked last week by its former leader and Prime Minister Helen Clark's support for TPP as too important a regional trade pact for New Zealand not to be part of. The full TPP text, negotiated in secret over more than five years, although subject to accurate, unofficial leaks of draft texts, will become available publicly in the parliamentary processes required in all 12 signatory countries to put the agreement into action.
Robertson said the TPP deal had "failed to meet the test set by the government" for dairy market access.
“The government promised meaningful gains, but the dairy industry is describing the outcome as disappointing. When reports from Canada say their protected dairy sector remains mostly intact, you know that is not a good sign.
“While there are gains from tariff reductions in some sectors, this agreement was always going to be judged on the value to our largest export sector, and on that score it has failed."
Along with foreign land purchase restriction rights, Labour is insisting that: the drug buying agency Pharmac must be protected; corporations cannot successfully sue the government for regulating in the public interest; the Treaty of Waitangi must be upheld; meaningful gains are made for farmers in tariff reductions and market access.
In her statement, King said: “Labour supports free trade, but the TPPA is more than just a trade agreement. The government must come clean now on what ‘ugly compromises’ they have made behind closed doors."
Leading TPP opponent and University of Auckland law professor Jane Kelsey labelled the deal "a travesty of democracy".
"The government has ignored, insulted and lied to its citizens," she said.
Trade Minister Tim Groser "always knew he was on a hiding to nothing on dairy," Kelsey said.
On the apparent restriction of the patent terms for biologic medicines, Kelsey said "the compromise language on biologic medicines agreed between the US and Australia is apparently so vague the US can and will insist that its intepretation prevails."
"Giving Big Pharma another three years' monopoly over the data, on top of other changes to patents and more leverage over decisions, will undermine the 'fundamentals' of Pharmac and blow out the medicines bill," she said. She predicted "corporate lobbyists who are ‘cleared advisers’ will get to see the deal" before the public.
"They will be all over it and seeking to remove what they still don’t like and add their demands."
Kelsey said the fight over TPP was "far from over yet."