Monday, 1st February, 2016

It may surprise some but I agree with TPP detractors that our government hasn’t done a very good job in telling us the TPP story. They have been unnecessarily secretive. But like most sales and purchase agreements, we sign them with conditions and if the detractors believe they have the support of New Zealanders now is the time to provide informed debate as to why NZ should not proceed rather than become an unrepresentative placard on an Auckland pavement.

There is a process for us all to do this and all 12 parties to the agreement have the same process – I find it inconceivable that all 12 will have signed on to a flawed agreement as some detractors are suggesting.

There are two things I have always believed with regard the TPP. Firstly the TPP is not an open – ended free trade agreement but it is an agreement giving preference for New Zealand businesses to operate in about a third of the global economy.

The consequence of this will be to increase trade, jobs and foreign exchange earnings so it seems logical that we should do everything possible to not just keep NZ in the game but frame the debate to identify what we need to do to exploit TPP opportunities to the fullest extent possible without placing NZ at risk – these are my conditions.

Secondly I have always believed the intentions of TPP to be clear -to promote trade, investment, economic growth, job creation, development and innovation through the collaboration of the 12 signing countries, including the largest and third-largest economies in the world, the United States and Japan.

The Government has assessed that for New Zealand, TPP will eliminate tariffs on 93 per cent of exports to our new FTA partners – the US, Japan, Canada, Mexico and Peru.

And it is equally clear that successive New Zealand governments, including Labour-led, have worked hard over the past 25 years to achieve this agreement. Their shared creed has been that TPP will help diversify and grow the economy.

Yet here we are - a nation whose standard of living requires strong and enduring global relationships; we have dug ourselves into a hole in which Kiwis are declaring themselves either for or against the deal, without having read the TPP document and assessed its potential benefits and risks linked to its implementation. As someone wiser than me once said – they should first seek to understand, then be understood.

There may be concessions we will need to make, but just as has happened with other Trade Agreements we can, indeed, must, keep the work going to improve the arrangements as we move forward.

As with other FTA’s, the TPP gives preference to New Zealand businesses and traders in exploiting opportunities in the markets of the 11 other partner countries. And like the Trade Agreement with China and Australia and all the others NZ has negotiated in the past 30 years, there will be a process involved.

At a high level, surely, having that opportunity has got to be good and beneficial long-term for New Zealand. As Prime Minister John Key clearly stated (last week) “we won’t get rich selling to ourselves.”

But in strongly agreeing with him that we must expand our global supply chains, attract more investment and develop new markets, doesn’t mean that I don’t agree with others calling for clarity and specifics on what the potential risks linked to the implementation of TPP are.

It doesn’t matter whether you view the world and New Zealand’s opportunities within it from the left, right or centre of the political spectrum, for this country to succeed we must promote ourselves as an open and confident country that backs itself on the world stage. At this point, there should be no debate – it is unthinkable and irresponsible that we walk away from the TPP.

We have time to do this scrutiny in a thoroughly open and democratic process. The TPP is clear on one point: it won’t come into effect until all member countries ratify the deal. At least two other countries, Canada and the United States, have signaled they intend a robust ratification process and debate.

Let’s be smart about this. In our case ratification will involve legislation and a rigorous consultation and select committee process. This will provide an opportunity to identify and test the evidence of those claiming that TPP will require NZ to give too much away and undermine our democracy and best interests.

Meanwhile signing up to the deal and having the ceremony here in Auckland can only be positive for the business community and our brand as New Zealand’s only city of global scale. 

For more information contact Michael Barnett, mobile: 0275 631 150.
Michael Barnett, Chief Executive, Auckland Chamber of Commerce.