The Labour Party is giving conditional support for the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership, with party leader Andrew Little saying Labour is “pro-free trade” but will only support TPP if it contains “key protections” for New Zealanders.
“Labour supports free trade,” he said. “However, we will not support a TPP agreement that undermines New Zealand’s sovereignty.”
The Labour caucus had agreed five ‘bottom line’ principles: the government’s drug-buying agency Pharmac “must be protected”; corporations cannot “successfully sue the government for regulating in the public interest”; New Zealand maintains the right to restrict farmland and housing sales to non-resident foreign buyers; the Treaty of Waitangi must be upheld; and there must be “meaningful gains” in tariff reductions and market access for New Zealand farmers.
International Trade Minister Tim Groser has repeatedly given assurances, without detail, that these conditions will be met but the secrecy surrounding the talks and leaks of draft negotiation documents have fuelled fears about of the pact, which covers investment as well as trade rules and has become a legacy issue for US President Barack Obama, who was forced to rely on opposition Republican party backers to gain authority to fast-track an agreement through the American political system.
“The lack of transparency around the government’s negotiations with large foreign interests means Kiwis are in the dark about which of their sovereign rights are being gambled away by this government in the hope of better trade conditions,” said Little in a statement.
“Labour is pro free trade, as evidenced by the China Free Trade Agreement we signed in 2008. But by negotiating the TPP in complete secrecy, the Government is creating a level of public unease.”
Releasing detail of the agreement after negotiations are complete was “too late to guarantee protections on some of our most valuable institutions and rights.”
“This is not good enough, and it is not enough time for New Zealanders to ensure their interests are being protected,” Little said. “The bottom line for Labour is that New Zealand’s sovereign rights must be protected. Anything else is unacceptable.”
Trade Ministers are due to meet in Hawaii next week for what is expected to be a crucial set of talks if the TPP agreement is to be advanced at a pace that keeps it out of the firing line in next year’s US presidential elections, where concerns about the impact of its provisions on American jobs has made Democrat and Republican candidates alike nervous about its political saleability.