TPP 'a damned sight better' now - Ardern

Jacinda Ardern and Trade Ministrer David Parker. Credit: Video - Newshub; Image - Reuters

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the present state of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal isn't perfect, "but it is a damned sight better than what we had when we started".

The talks appear to be back on track, after Canada's absence from a key meeting put them in doubt. Canadian officials later blamed a scheduling error for the misunderstanding.

Ms Ardern told media the "core elements" of the deal, now known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, have been agreed upon by the 11 nations taking part.

"There are four outstanding areas that remain that need to be addressed before there is final ratification of an agreement," she said.

"Those issues relate to other nations, and do not relate to New Zealand. So those areas for renegotiation are not our issues. There is no set timeline for when they will be resolved."

RNZ reports those nations are Canada, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam. Vietnam wants to avoid sanction over labour law violations, Canada wants more subsidies for French-speaking programmes, while Brunei and Malaysia want to phase the TPP rules in over a longer period of time.

New Zealand's primary concern - that the TPP would allow corporations to sue Governments over policies that hurt their bottom line - has been largely allayed, says Ms Ardern.

"There has been a narrowing of [investor-state dispute settlement clauses (ISDS)] provisions in three areas. One, ISDS no longer applies to investor screening. The second, anyone who takes up a contract with a Government is no longer able to sue through ISDS, but must go through domestic procedures instead. The third relates to financial services.

"New Zealand advocated strongly and managed to narrow those provisions around ISDS to a place where they now are similar to previous agreements New Zealand has signed, including the China FTA and the Malaysian FTA.

"Our goal of course was to go even further, but the fact that in three weeks we managed to negotiate to this point, I regard as a good outcome for our negotiators and for New Zealand. This is not a perfect agreement, but it is a damn sight better than what we had when we started."

She says future trade agreements New Zealand enters into won't have ISDS clauses at all.

"We're putting a line in the sand - we will not sign up to future agreements that include those clauses."

And the clauses still present in the TPP will be up for review in three years.

"It will be another chance for us to challenge their existence," says Ms Ardern.

She says the most important concession New Zealand has won is making the Overseas Investment Act immune to ISDS challenges.

"The [Overseas Investment Office] and that process is exempt from ISDS clauses. That is probably one of the most important suspended clauses that we managed to negotiate."

And there's the chance New Zealand could negotiate individual agreements with different countries around ISDS clauses.

"We've had talks with a number of other countries who in principle have agreed to side letters as well. Those will not be released until final ratification."

Twenty provisions in the old version of the TPP, mostly demanded by the US, have since been suspended, and Ms Ardern says New Zealand will fight hard to keep them that way if the US rejoins the talks.

Newshub.