Parker wants public input in pursuit of progressive trade as PM flies flag in Europe
By Paul McBeth
April 13 (BusinessDesk) - Trade and Export Growth Minister David Parker wants a new progressive and inclusive trade agenda, laying the groundwork for a refreshed strategy, while Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern seeks to accelerate free trade talks with the European Union.
Consultations on the 'Trade for All Agenda' will start in the coming months, Parker said in a statement. The strategy's principles are to a generate genuine public conversation, ongoing consultation with Maori, creating economic opportunities for more people, supporting international rules-based systems, backing multilateral negotiations as the best option followed by open plurilateral talks, and enhancing New Zealand's economic integration in Asia-Pacific and economic connections to other regions.
The government wants trade policy to support environmental issues, protecting New Zealanders' health, labour rights, gender equality, indigenous rights, small- and medium-sized enterprise participation in global markets, inclusive regional economic growth, protecting traditional knowledge and maintaining the right of governments to regulate in the public interest, a Feb. 7 Cabinet committee minute shows.
"In the current global environment, with a rise in protectionism and fears of trade wars, fair international trade rules are more important than ever for ensuring that our trading partners treat us fairly," Parker said. "We share some concerns about the excesses of global capital but it is important not to blame trade for other matters, whether it be the impact of technological disruption or tax avoidance by multinationals."
The Labour-led government has been seeking wide public engagement in trade issues, with Parker touring the country explaining the benefits of the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade and investment pact that became totemic of corporate greed among anti-globalisation campaigners who saw investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions as undermining national sovereignty.
Under Ardern's administration, the government has ordered trade negotiators that future free trade agreements don't include ISDS provisions, aligning with European policymakers who prefer a new public court system over the clauses.
Ardern is en route to the UK for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting and will then go to Europe where she will press for a free trade agreement with the regional bloc in meetings with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Parker has said he would like to see a New Zealand-EU deal setting a gold standard agreement, with environmental and labour standards flagged as an area of shared values between the nations.
New Zealand Institute of Economic Research John Ballingall, a former Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade official, said a trade agreement with the EU would help diversify the country's connections and reduce the exposure to the economic conditions in China and the Asia Pacific at a time when tensions between the US and China threaten to spill over into a trade war.
"It's going to be a pretty challenging time for the global trading system and that 's why I'm really encouraged that New Zealand is continuing to control the controllable, that is focusing on our negotiations and focusing on making sure New Zealand doesn't get shut out of these markets like some of the other players might end up doing," he said.
The tit-for-tat tariff threats between the US and China were soothed somewhat by Chinese President Xi Jinping taking a conciliatory tone at the Boao Forum this week, and US President Donald Trump has tasked officials to examine how it can rejoin the CPTPP - a deal he withdrew from in one of his first acts as president.
However, Ballingall said it's "highly unlikely" the 11 CPTPP nations will reopen negotiations "given the amount of political capital spent already", especially if they have to offer more concessions to the US.
"It's a technical possibility that the US can rejoin, but I don't think it can happen in the way Trump thinks it can do," he said.
Submissions on the New Zealand Parliament's review of the updated agreement next week, and long-time TPP opponent Jane Kelsey, a law professor at the University of Auckland, said the government needs to say whether "it would veto the reactivation of the suspended items, such as those that would gut Pharmac’s bargaining power with the pharmaceutical industry, and whether would it even consider discussing additional concessions to the US beyond the original TPPA".
In a Cabinet paper accompanying the release of the new trade agenda, Parker said public perceptions of the nation's trade policy "are often dominated by polarised reactions to some key elements", and that a new articulation of the government's agenda can "rebuild greater public consensus around trade policy" and achieve a new balance.
The new trade agenda is expected to get a mixed response from New Zealand's key trading partners with some adopting a similar agenda while others will be sceptical or outright oppositional, the paper said.
In the statement, Parker said feedback is already being sought on how progressive trade issues can be pursued in Pacific Alliance talks with Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru, and in March, New Zealand Chile and Canada agreed to work through trade policies to boost sustainable development by addressing climate change, gender equality, indigenous rights and minimum work standards.
NZIER's Ballingall said New Zealand has included labour and environmental issues in free trade talks for years, but they haven't been highlighted enough by previous administrations which have focused on export gains.
"That's just not a great argument for liberalisation, it's got to be how does trade boost living standards - that's why we enter trade agreements," he said. "Reorientating the trade narrative around living standards and how it improves Kiwis' lives is really, really important."