Bryce Edwards: Labour’s remarkable CPTPP

Bryce Edwards: Labour’s remarkable CPTPP

Last year, Labour MPs were amongst the 72,000 who marched in the streets against the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. Now in Government, Labour appears to have made major progress in ensuring the TPP should happen. Below are 20 of the most important items from recent days about the progress of the deal.

1) The TPP is now the CPTPP! Vernon Small explains: “It might be near unpronounceable as the CPTPP (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for the Trans-Pacific Partnership), and loom on paper like an abbreviation of something from the former Soviet Union, but apparently the rebranding will help Trudeau sell it to his voters” – see: Jacinda Ardern passes Apec test. See also, Audrey Young’s TPP not dead but needs more work – PM.

2) Many former critics of the TPP are now happier with the agreement that seems to be emerging. Bryan Gould says “If the reports coming out of the negotiations are correct… the problems many had with the TPPA will have been substantially resolved” – see: Is the TPPA now fit for purpose? Gould gives credit to Ardern: “We will be able to judge how successful she has been when we see the full amended text. But the early reports are that substantial progress was made on these points of difficulty, and if that is so, it is entirely because she dug in her heels.”

3) The deal has been improved largely thanks to Canada, says blogger No Right Turn – see: Saved by Canada. He’s more positive about the deal than previously, but says, “Whether the deal is still worth it for New Zealand without US market access remains to be seen, but in the previous analysis the US bullshit was a significant cost, so it might be”.

4) The Labour-led government is winning the praise and support of business and the National Party for their progress on the trade deal – see Craig McCulloch’s Exporters welcome revamped TPP, critics have doubts. However, former Trade Minister Todd McClay is also quoted suggesting that the deal isn’t so different to National’s version: “We can give it a different name, but ultimately it substantially is the same”.

5) On RNZ’s Nine-to-Noon today, Matthew Hooton praised Ardern and Parker, pointing to the difficult ideological terrain for the Labour leadership: “I think that the Government has handled this well. They do have this fringe, including within their own party, which has got themselves into an absolute lather over this issue. And Jacinda Ardern, I think, has done enough to keep that extreme left, at least if not happy with what she has done, but at least not going to man the barricades” – listen here: Political commentators Mike Williams & Matthew Hooton.

6) How has David Parker managed to walk the tightrope of placating so many critics and fans of the TPP? For the best answer to this, see Sam Sachdeva’s interview with the Trade Minister: David Parker plots a new approach to trade. Partly, it seems that the Minister is much more determined to make gains that the political left might appreciate. Parker is also very sensitive to the need to be more transparent and communicative over the negotiations.

7) David Parker’s attempt to make trade deals more progressive is dealt with in Sam Sachdeva’s The fight for multilateral trade. According to this, “Parker said the CPTPP was good for New Zealand not just in terms of market access, but by providing enforcement mechanisms to hold countries to account if they didn’t meet labour and environmental standards.”

8) For details of the effort Jacinda Ardern and David Parker have been going to in order to keep their party onside with them over the negotiations, see Richard Harman’s Labour Party on side with new TPP – so far. Harman says that the issue of how Ardern now deals with getting an agreement supported by her colleagues “is going to be real test of Jacinda Ardern’s political management skills.”

9) The National Party has clearly indicated they will help Labour get any TPP legislation passed in Parliament. But Richard Harman argues that relying on National “would almost certainly damage Labour among its base who generally ardently oppose the TPP” – see: National tries to drive wedge into coalition.

10) A long-time observer and critic of free trade deals, Gordon Campbell seems relatively happy with progress made in the weekend – see: On the TPP outcome, and the Hobbit law. His main concern has been the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), and he says: “if we couldn’t remove ISDS measures entirely, what we could do was make it harder for foreign firms to access them. The Ardern/Parker aim in Vietnam has been to severely restrict the conditions under which foreign firms could trigger ISDS measures, and Parker took at least three different routes to that goal.”

11) How have the ISDS provisions changed? The improvements are outlined by Sam Sachdeva: “Ardern said they had been successful in narrowing the ISDS provisions in three areas: they no longer apply to investment screening (which will protect the Government’s restriction on foreign buyers from challenge), will not allow a company that takes up a contract with a government to sue through the ISDS, and changes to the way it applies to financial services” – see: New TPP text brings change, outstanding issues. See also, Vernon Small’s Renamed TPP ‘a damned sight better’, could be in place in a few months.

12) Jane Kelsey has been the leading opponent of the TPP, and she gave her strong verdict against the latest deal on TV3’s AM Show this morning. You can watch her interview with Duncan Garner, along with other interviews on the topic here: Greens will go against Labour in TPP vote.

13) For more of Kelsey’s analysis, see her Herald opinion piece, Signing TPPA-11 would break Labour’s word, and Leith Huffadine’s Why is the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement back on the table?

14) Many leftwing bloggers aren’t convinced that the TPP has been modified enough. At The Standard, Lynn Prentice warns Labour: “The new government, if it is interested in proceeding with something like the TPPA, should at the very least stop hunting for momentum and concentrate on transparency and analysis. Because if you can’t convince me that this agreement is anything other than a scam, then you won’t be able to convince many on the ‘left’.” – see: TPP: A slight improvement but deservedly still a zombie.

15) It’s not clear if Jacinda Ardern has managed to fix the TPP or not, but writing before the weekend, Chris Trotter said that if she hasn’t done so, then for many people, “Jacinda” will have become “just another f***ing politician” – see: TPP: Fix It, Jacinda, Or Forget It. Trotter paints a picture of the new government selling out its core activists.

16) Laura O’Connell Rapira of ActionStation is far from convinced about what the new government is doing on trade. Writing last week, she suggested the public is being manipulated by Jacinda Ardern and Labour – see: Don’t fall for the government’s spin on the TPPA. She also points out that Labour had previously run a petition against the TPP, but when you go to the party’s website now, all you see is: “A big ol’ blank page”.

17) The Labour Party is out of sync with the labour movement over the new trade deal, with the Council of Trade Unions coming out to say the TPP is still “structurally biased towards the commercial sector and downplayed issues such as health, safety and human rights”. CTU secretary Sam Huggard says that unions would like to “be part of a conversation with government about what a better agenda for trade could look like for working people” – see RNZ’s TPP critics unmoved by new negotiation wins.

18) The Green Party has announced, unsurprisingly, that they will vote against the new deal. Trade spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman admits the new agreement is an improvement, but says the Government should have pushed harder for a better agreement – see Claire Trevett’s Greens will not support revised TPP trade deal.

19) How could Labour go from opposing the TPP to negotiating what appears to be its near-conclusion? According to Rob Hosking this can easily be explained by the fact that politicians often say one thing in opposition and then another in government, and he calls this “’the Maharey Rule”. He explains: “Steve Maharey, newly appointed Social Development Minister under Helen Clark, excused one of that government’s changes of tack when challenged about the mismatch between his opposition rhetoric and his actions by breezily saying it was ‘just the sort of thing you say in opposition’. It was a burst of admirable frankness, and as such has been celebrated ever since” – see: Labour TPP stance harks back to Maharey.

20) Finally, for humour about the trade negotiations over the years, see my blog post, The history of NZ’s TPP negotiations via cartoons.