Twelve nations formally sign Trade Pacific Partnership Agreement in Auckland, ratification will take longer
By Fiona Rotherham
Feb. 4 (BusinessDesk) - “TPP is a big deal, literally,” said Prime Minister John Key at the formal signing ceremony in Auckland today involving the 12 Pacific Rim nations party to the controversial Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement which has been more than five years in negotiation.
The signing ceremony for what is the biggest trade deal in 20 years came just ahead of a protest march in Auckland's city centre from those opposed to it.
Australia kicked off the formal signing which was done in alphabetical order of the 12 nations involved who include Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, US and Vietnam.
The countries represent 40 percent of global GDP, a market of around 800 million people, and a third of world trade.
TPP is New Zealand's biggest-ever free trade deal and is estimated to boost our economy by at least $2.7 billion a year by 2030, Key said.
The deal would “enhance the prosperity of all our peoples” and successive governments had worked hard to make TPP a reality, he said at the ceremony.
“This is a very important day for the 12 nations involved,” he said.
But he said while signature was an important step that marked the end of the negotiating process, the TPP was still just a piece of paper, or in fact 16,000 pieces of paper, until it actually comes into force.
To make the economic opportunities a reality for businesses, consumers, investors and workers, Key said the various signatories needed to ratify it to make it legally binding.
Following signature, the government will submit the final text of TPP and the National Interest Analysis to parliament next Tuesday. The legislative changes to implement TPP will then go through normal policy and parliamentary procedures.
Trade Minister Todd McClay said that would give the government time to talk to New Zealanders further about TPP’s benefits and address some of their concerns.
“The Government will be running nation-wide roadshows for the public and business, to ensure New Zealand is ready to take advantage of new opportunities from the first day TPP enters into force”, he said.
It's expected that TPP will come into force within two years of signature once countries have completed their domestic legislative procedures.
Each of the 12 signatories responded to questions on their ratification processes which all differ. Malaysia has been the first to ratify the deal which was supported by its upper and lower houses last week. It was an unprecedented step in that country for an international treaty but thought necessary because the deal requires several amendments to Malaysian laws.
Most of the 12 nations say the ratification process will take at least until the end of the year with New Zealand not the only country were some citizens require some convincing of the overall merits of the deal despite trade negotiators heralding it as an important milestone.
Canada’s International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland said it was in the unique position of not being in government when the TPP was negotiated and had campaigned on the promise it would hold a full parliamentary study of it before ratification.
“We made a firm commitment during the election to consult widely on TPP and we are absolutely committed to keeping to that.”
Critics have said the TPP faces an uphill battle being endorsed by both the US House of Representatives and the Senate. However US trade negotiator Michael Froman said he was confident of getting bi-partisan support for the deal because of the significant benefits to the US, though he couldn’t say when that was likely to occur.
Unless the US or Japan endorse the pact, it can’t be implemented under the deal signed by trade ministers after marathon talks in November.
McClay said chief negotiators had been asked to do some work on expressed interest from other countries in also joining the TPP, with many of the trade ministers saying the door was open to China, a major trading partner in the region, to become involved.
Froman said the focus now though was on getting the agreement ratified in their respective countries.
The government published a 277-page assessment of the agreement last week, concluding it was in the national interest, protects Maori rights under the Treaty of Waitangi, and carved out the ability for governments to regulate in key areas, including land and water rights, without fear of being sued by foreign investors.
A prominent critic of the agreement, Auckland University law professor Jane Kelsey dismissed the analysis as a predictable cheer leading exercise that talked up supposed gains while largely ignoring the downsides.
Opposition leader Andrew Little said today the stage-managed signing of the TPP agreement at the Auckland casino highlights the divisions National’s handling of the deal has caused in New Zealand.
“The Government’s whole management of the agreement has been botched, from the total secrecy to ramming it down people’s throats,” he said.
Labour has said it doesn’t support the agreement in its current form because “we shouldn’t need a permission slip from foreign corporations to pass our own laws”, he said. The area of greatest pressure for Labour is the treatment of land sales to foreigners.
The agreement has the support of major business groups including Business New Zealand and the EMA who this week said New Zealand stands to gain significantly from TPP and that our economic growth would be under threat if we were not part of it.
Federated Farmers today said the signing of the deal was a significant milestone for the New Zealand economy and a positive deal for the agriculture sector.
Federated Farmers president William Rolleston said the agreement didn’t deliver everything the sector desired but “you only have to look at the current state of dairy prices to realise the vital importance of opening up new export markets and ensuring a level playing field for New Zealand exporters.".
As a result of TPP, New Zealand will be around $259 million annually better off as tariffs are lifted on 94 percent of all exports, he said.