The Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact does not yet include an acceptable deal on access for New Zealand’s most important exports, dairy products, with little more than a month to go before the controversial 12 nation trade deal could be concluded.
“I think the way I would describe it is there’s a deal. It’s probably not at the level that we would currently like,” said Prime Minister John Key at his post-Cabinet press conference in Wellington. He was referring to comments last week by Trade Minister Tim Groser that negotiations on dairy access to the heavily protected US, Canadian and Japanese markets had “barely started.”
A vote is due in the US Senate as early as mid-week to grant “fast-track” negotiating authority to US President Barack Obama to conclude the deal after a crucial vote in the Congress last Thursday left the Senate as the final hurdle.
Key took issue with Groser’s comments to BusinessDesk last week that there was so far “no deal” on dairy products.
“It’s not to say that there’s a bad deal on dairy products, it’s more to say that there’s no deal,” Groser said last week. “We’ve barely started. Phony negotiating positions have been put on the table but that doesn’t help a professional negotiator make a judgement as to where the landing zone is.”
However, Key said: “From what I’ve seen at the moment, if in theory we froze time and concluded the deal as I see it, it’s net positive for New Zealand. But it wouldn’t be doing enough for dairy for us to be comfortable and we would like to do some more there. There are a lot of other sectors that would be very happy about it.”
Key said his “gut instinct” was that the Senate would follow the US Congress, which by a narrow vote last week approved US President Barack Obama’s so-called “fast-track” authority to negotiate a conclusion to the TPP deal. “We’ll eventually get the chance to potentially get a deal before the summer recess” Key said.
Conventional wisdom among TPP negotiators is that the 12 nation deal, covering 40 percent of world trade, must be agreed by the end of July so that it doesn’t drag beyond the US summer break, in August, after which the country’s politics is likely to become dominated by jockeying for position ahead of the 2016 presidential election.
“It’s not straightforward. You’ve still got people in the Senate who might vote against, but my gut instinct is it’s very important to President Obama and they’ll do their best to get there,” said Key.