OPINION: On taking office as Trade Minister David Parker promised to play a leadership role on free trade, on New Zealand’s terms - a new inclusive and progressive approach that would protect the interest of New Zealanders against the excesses of globalised capital.
I think he genuinely believes that. But the new Government has squandered the opportunity to show that leadership.
Instead they are championing the same Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement that Labour and New Zealand First said they would not support when in Opposition. Protestations that this is a vastly better deal lack credibility.
Some 22 items have been suspended, explicitly to entice the US to consider re-entry. Yet, as President Trump made clear, the old TPPA would be the starting point for those discussions. What confidence do we have that New Zealand would refuse?
Equally, Labour failed in its commitment to replace the National Interest Analysis prepared by the Ministry officials who negotiated the agreement with an independent cost-benefit analysis. Labour promised a robust economic analysis, including distributive end employment impacts, coupled with a health impact assessment. This could have been done.
Instead, they have released an update of the propaganda piece prepared for National.
The new Government has not even been able to shed the reviled veil of secrecy. Parker deserves credit for getting the nine new pages of text released before the signing, but he won’t say how many nor which countries, aside from Australia, will sign side letters not to allow foreign investors to sue under the controversial investor-state dispute settlement. That is really Labour’s only claim to achieving something new. But we won’t see them until after the signing.
While I’m disappointed, I’m not surprised. Labour has historically supported these deals and the caucus is now split. The TPPA was the first test, within a week of taking office. They knew the business sector would crucify them if they walked away. Winston Peters, the ultimate pragmatist, did an about face on a US-NZ free trade agreement last time he was Foreign Minister.
The Government will claim a chimera of Parliamentary legitimacy when the resurrected TPPA is endorsed in the House. But they have betrayed their own voters, and more importantly failed to provide much-needed impetus to a genuinely democratic and progressive trade agenda fit for the 21st century.
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