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Opinion: TPP or die -- why we need it

Monday 1 Feb 2016 5:00 a.m.

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The political consensus on free trade is over.

Stand by for thousands of protesters to target the signing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement on Thursday.

After decades of supporting free trade, Labour has chosen to veer left into the bosom of New Zealand First and the Greens and oppose the TPP. It's short-sighted and totally hypocritical, in my view. It looks like the party has had its strings pulled by anti-TPP academic Jane Kelsey.

This is a serious and controversial departure for Labour, and it may yet hurt the party among middle New Zealand voters.

Do these politicians know that our bottled wine can be sold tariff-free in Canada, Japan and the US on day one of the TPP being implemented? Why would you oppose that after we as a country have fought for this for so long? Most fruit and other produce can be exported tariff-free too, as a result of the TPP.

I travelled the world with Labour and National Party ministers for years, watching them fight bloody hard for market access for our exporters. I have seen a block of New Zealand butter selling for $25 in Japan; the same with cheese. Some of these tariffs are so high our exporters are locked out.

I've also seen Phil Goff, Helen Clark, John Key, Mike Moore and Tim Groser invest thousands of hours over the years for this sort of deal. Rather than accuse them of selling out, I'd argue they've done a great job.

New Zealand is not losing its sovereignty. That's a total overreaction.

Tobacco is excluded from the TPP. We can do what we like with policy in that area.

We can't ban foreigners from buying houses if they reside abroad, but we can introduce stamp duties, therefore effectively locking them out. The TPP is clear on that. Labour is free to do that in Government.

Yes, if a future Government decides to nationalise everything, then we could be on the hook for a legal claim from some international investor. But what are the chances? Slim.

The same investor-state disputes policies are in the FTA with China. Eight years on there has been no issue -- no challenge, nothing. Indeed, we haven't faced one challenge in 30 years, let alone a successful one, according to former trade official Charles Finny.

These TPP investor-state dispute policies may indeed help New Zealand exporters in foreign countries from anti-competitive behaviour.

Look at our fight to get apples into Australia. We used these agreements to take on our Aussie mates and we won.

The truth is Labour has taken a massive risk opposing the TPP. I sense the silent majority understands we have to be part of it, despite the noise from the usual suspects.

Labour is divided and bleeding over the TPP. More Labour MPs want to voice their opinions in support but they've been silenced.

Ms Clark, Mr Key, Mr Moore, Mr Groser and David Shearer aren't idiots. They know New Zealand has no choice but to be on board. Foreign investment is crucial into New Zealand too.

My friend runs a hotel in rural Waikato. The Chinese bought it recently. They have invested thousands into doing it up; they employ 33 locals in and around Tirau and Rotorua. Without the Chinese owners it would have closed and 33 Kiwis would be out of work. We have no option but to be international traders. Without it we die, slowly.

I predict the sky won't fall in. And exporters stand to make billions more in the years ahead.

We won't get rich buying and selling to each other; we need barriers broken and global doors open.

That's why we must continue to fight for international trade deals -- knowing there will always be a boisterous but small mob who hate the idea, no matter what the facts. 

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