As Prime Minister Bill English heads off to Japan with trade minister Todd McClay in their quest to revive the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) minus the USA, ‘the silence from Labour is deafening’, Auckland University law professor Jane Kelsey observes. ‘In an election year, they had hoped the TPPA was dead and buried. Now there is nowhere for them to hide.’
Earlier this week Australian Labor Party leader Bill Shorten confirmed in his budget reply speech that his party will not back the Coalition Government’s efforts to revive the TPP without the United States.
The New Zealand Greens and New Zealand First have also both rejected the government’s move.
Labour voted against ratification of the TPPA in the Parliament, saying the economic case did not stack up. Now, the prize of access to US markets that National used to justify the trade-offs for the right to regulate on many other issues has gone. Minister McClay has admitted the government has no analysis to back their pursuit of the deal without the US.
According to Professor Kelsey, the latest reports from Japan say a statement has been drafted that commits the remaining trade ministers to implement the TPPA by the end of this year. New provisions for entry into force and for original signatories to become parties are designed to expedite the US return to the fold. Trade ministers from the eleven countries will be asked to adopt the joint statement when they meet for APEC in Hanoi on 21 May, and finish the process in time for the leaders’ meeting at APEC in November.
‘Unbelievably’, she says, ‘they plan to retain the existing text, with all the toxic rules the US insisted on that undermine affordable medicines, grant foreign investors special rights to enforce offshore, prohibit requirements for data to be held onshore, and more.’
‘But why would the US want to re-join if its corporations have already got the benefits of the rules without paying anything for them?’
Minister McClay has conceded that this would be a new agreement to be put before the House, but that only means another process of impotent submissions and staged debate. The legislation has already been passed. Nothing seems likely to happen before the election, meaning Labour will have to deal with it as government or as opposition.
Professor Kelsey called on Labour to take a position now, so voters know where it stands – and, as with Australia, so the National government knows that it cannot claim any bipartisan support for its ideologically-driven attempt to keep the deeply unpopular agreement alive.