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Singapore ministerial shows NZ likely to pay price for TPPA

20 May 2014

Singapore ministerial shows NZ likely to pay a high price for an empty TPPA deal

‘At the end of a two-day ministerial meeting on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) in Singapore it seems clearer than ever that New Zealand stands to get almost nothing if they do reach a deal, and we will pay a very high price in return’, according to Professor Jane Kelsey, who has been observing the meeting.

Today’s statement from the TPPA ministers had the familiar recycled rhetoric of “meaningful progress”, “narrowing remaining differences”, and “building momentum”.

‘There are signs of a possible breakthrough on the sticking point of agriculture. But that would fall far below Trade Minister Groser’s “gold standard” of comprehensive liberalisation for agriculture’, Kelsey said.

Back in 2010, Wikileaks reported the warning from former chief negotiator Mark Sinclair that New Zealand needed to ‘manage expectations’ of an ‘El Dorado’ from the TPPA. Trade Minister Groser did the opposite, insisting that New Zealand required nothing less than comprehensive liberalisation - the rhetoric that APEC leaders used in November 2011.

‘Those chickens have come home to roost and Tim Groser has begun to shift the ground’, Kelsey observed.

According to Inside US Trade the Minister said New Zealand might accept alternatives to full tariff elimination if countries could show another way to achieve a ‘very high quality result’. Until then New Zealand would stick to its position, which means making no formal concessions on areas like medicine patents, copyright, or state-owned enterprises. It is unclear what kind of concessions Groser has in mind.

‘Holding to that line will be untenable if they are to close the TPPA deal. New Zealand is a minion with nothing to trade off; why would the big players give us anything?’, Kelsey asked.

During today’s press conference, some ministers hailed a new pragmatism and flexibility that would help clear the way forward.

‘Pragmatism is code for accepting that some countries with particular sensitivities cannot be pushed beyond their political comfort zone’, Kelsey said. ‘For New Zealand, that almost certainly means no significant new market access for dairy to Japan, the US or Canada.’

Professor Kelsey says that prospect has been on the cards for some time, based on what is known of the negotiations between Australia and Japan, and then US and Japan. Dairy appears to have achieved least concessions of any product from Japan, except for sugar.

‘In return for what looks like an empty deal, New Zealand will still be expected to make major concessions on the rules for Pharmac, Internet freedom, regulating foreign investment and much more’.

The TPPA ministers announced a ‘pathway for intensified engagement’ in market access and rules, such as intellectual property and state-owned enterprises, includes another ‘chief negotiators’ meeting in early July. By not calling it ‘a round’ they can avoid the need for any formal stakeholder presence.

‘The question now is where the New Zealand government will draw its new red line, and what price it will make the country pay for a deal that delivers few, if any, tangible returns’.


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