CPTPP fears: 'The Government has rolled over' says critic Jane Kelsey

The Government will "roll over" on all its promises regarding the CPTPP if the US decided to re-join, a prominent critic of the deal has warned.

The final text of the CPTPP (Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership) is expected to be signed later this week, ending a years-long gestation that's been protested most of the way.

After the US pulled out of the agreement last year and Labour wrested control of Parliament away from National, a number of changes were made. While protests against it have died down, University of Auckland law professor Jane Kelsey says the agreement remains the same, just "rebranded".

"There's nothing progressive about it," she told The AM Show on Monday morning.

"We have nine pages of new text wrapped around the old text, 22 items suspended - not removed. Suspended in case the US wants to come back in."

Suspended provisions won't have an effect under the agreement signed this week, but remain in the text and could be reintroduced at a later date, if all the parties agree.

They include restructuring Pharmac to "primarily benefit the pharmaceutical industry", in MFAT's words, lengthening copyright terms and holding ISPs responsible for infringing content their customers download.

"The real worry has to be not only that our Government has rolled over on this one, but that it and the other 10 will roll over to the demands of the Trump administration if they want to re-enter," said Ms Kelsey.

She's also criticised the continued secrecy of the negotiations, in particular which countries have promised not to let their companies use investor-state dispute clauses to take New Zealand to court.

"Jacinda Ardern called investor-state dispute settlements (ISDS) a 'dog', right, and it's in there intact," said Prof Kelsey. "The Government is promising side-letters from some of the countries promising not to use it, but they won't say who until the deal has been done."

Jane Kelsey and Stephen Jacobi.
Jane Kelsey and Stephen Jacobi. Photo credit: The AM Show

And restrictions on companies that can sue over changes the Government makes to healthcare regulation are too narrow, in her view.

"It's only tobacco that's protected - drug companies could sue us, we could have water bottling companies sue us, we could have measures on climate change being challenged. All of those are still vulnerable."

Stephen Jacobi, executive director of the NZ International Business Forum, said the "hard edges" have been taken off the CPTPP, and says it's time to "stop arguing about it".

Fears the US might return and steamroll the other signatories into getting what it wants are overblown, he said.

"The Americans can't just come in tomorrow and say it's all on again. It has to be a negotiated return."

He said no one has sued New Zealand under ISDS clauses in our previous trade agreements, and suggested New Zealand companies would benefit from having them because it would protect their overseas investments.

Prof Kelsey disagreed.

"It's not about New Zealand firms suing offshore - it's about the big players, they're the ones who bring the disputes."

Treasury estimates the CPTPP will boost New Zealand's GDP over the next couple of decades by up to 1 percent. Prof Kelsey ridiculed the "miniscule" effect it would have, but Mr Jacobi said history suggested it would be worth a lot more.

"Look at the China free trade agreement. A very modest figure was given... now it's worth $26 billion.

"This is going to be good for New Zealand. We've got to make it work, so let's get on and stop arguing about it."