If not TPP then what?

This op ed was kindly published by The Spinoff on 16 August 2016.

Trade has been described as “war by other means”.

That led the US Defence Secretary in peak hyperbole to declare that the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) was as important to him as another aircraft carrier.

New Zealand’s interests are distinctly less martial, but placing TPP on the altar of lost dreams is a whole lot more serious than many imagine.

The world is more inter-dependent than ever before, although today that inter-dependence is under threat from political demagogues and backward-looking protectionists the world over.

What are the consequences and options before us if TPP does not proceed?.

Where are we now?

While TPP took six years or more to negotiate, it has been only six months or so since the signing in Auckland.

To come into effect TPP requires members representing 85% of the area’s GDP to ratify – these means both the United States as well as Japan.

Eight of the twelve parties including New Zealand have commenced the ratification process.

Four parties – the US, Canada, Chile and Brunei – have yet to get started.

President Obama is keen to see the TPP implementing legislation passed by the existing Congress in the ‘lame duck’ session after the elections on 8 November and before a new Congress and a new Administration take office on 20 January.

Last week the Administration took the first procedural step towards that end by sending a Draft Statement of Administrative Action to Congress.

Under the terms of the Trade Promotion Authority, the President is required to give at least 30 days notice to Congress of an intention to submit the text of a treaty like TPP for a vote in both Houses.

That Draft Statement does not commit the President to submitting the text, but is a pre-requisite for doing so.

Once the President decides to send the treaty text to Congress, which he may do at any time, the Senate and House must schedule the vote, up or down, within 90 days.

The Administration must also submit a number of other reports including an assessment of the impact of the treaty on employment and on the environment.

The problem is that US politicians on both sides of Congress say they have diffculties with TPP.

Some – on both left and right – hate the whole idea of trade, which they wrongly accuse of exporting jobs and hollowing out the domestic economy.

Others, mostly on the left, think TPP goes too far in entrenching property rights for pharmaceutical companies and giving new rights to foreign investors.

Others, mostly on the right, think TPP doesn’t go far enough in terms of intellectual property, tobacco and financial services.

Everyone seems to want to do something about so-called currency manipulation, except American currency manipulation of course.

But here’s the key point:  TPP, after six or more years of exhausting negotiation, represents a careful balance – not perfect by any means, but the consensus reached between the twelve parties.

TPP is not the end of the story for the quest for more effective trade rules – in some senses it is only the beginning of a much wider initiative to create a new framework for trade and investment in the Asia Pacific region.

That’s why there is so much riding on TPP and why TPP is still a good idea which will simply not go away.

Why is TPP still a good idea?

For New Zealand TPP would link us to the eleven other member economies representing 36% of the world’s GDP, markets taking over 40% of our exports and 812 million consumers.

To cut a very long story very short, the benefits of TPP would be four-fold:

  • TPP would convey measurable trade advantages for all export sectors and open up important new markets like Japan and the United States (where our competitors have better access than us).
  • TPP would put in place an updated and extensive set of rules for trade and investment which we have had a hand in making and which extend into important new areas like labour and the environment.
  • TPP would improve the climate for inward and outward investment while upholding the Government to regulate in public health, the environment and the Treaty of Waitangi.

TPP would require little policy change in New Zealand, with the major change being an extension to copyright term.

If not TPP, then what?

If we set aside the political rhetoric for a moment, we need to remember that TPP was initiated under President Bush and has been completed under President Obama.

It has not been thrust upon the American people – it has been negotiated by their representatives.

But despite the best will of President Obama the lame duck strategy may not work given the polarisation around this issue in the election campaign.

If so, then it will be for a new President and Administration to address the critical economic and foreign policy issues behind TPP.

There are three broad scenarios.

One is that TPP will be completely abandoned and the United States will turn its back on decades of American-led globalism with all the implications for its trade and foreign policy interests this implies.

The other is that there will be an attempt at re-negotiation.

This will not be easy – why should any of the TPP partners do so when they have been so grievously let down before?

It will also not be quick – it normally takes an incoming Administration the best part of  a year to appoint a US Trade Representative and other key personnel.

The last scenario is that the incoming President will make the calculation that TPP is too good to pass up and will submit the treaty to Congress.

This scenario cannot be totally dismissed but has been rejected by both Presidential candidates.

Any delay in moving forward with TPP will give rise to important shifts in global trade policy.

Other negotiations – like the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership or RCEP, under negotiation between 16 Asian economies including New Zealand – will take on new importance.

But equally, we cannot be confident that the outcome of RCEP would have the same high level of ambition as TPP.

Other groupings may also emerge but none of them are likely to include the United States.

The very issues and concerns that fuelled the development of TPP will undoubtedly find an outlet but this will take time – time, unfortunately, that will translate into lost opportunities.

Conclusion

What will not change is that we will need to continue to connect with the rest of the world and the rules for this engagement will remain vitally important for us.

Things may not be looking good for TPP but it is too early still to declare the battle lost.

We must continue to put to our American and other friends that turning aside from TPP would represent a significant threat to all our interests.

If TPP is not the answer, then we will be faced with the daunting task of finding other options.

Making trade not war is just a much better way of using our valuable time and resources.

No this is not a trade war!

 In this article I argue for calm when trade issues arise.

Some years ago I wrote “when elephants fight, it gets tough on the grass”.  That was when the United States under President George W Bush was blocking steel imports from New Zealand and other countries.  It took a World Trade Organisation case to sort that out eventually and in New Zealand’s favour.

This time steel is in the news again but it’s an anti-dumping complaint which our industry – or so it is alleged – is taking against steel imports from China.  The quality of imported steel has been a lot in the news but anti-dumping is not about quality – it’s about whether steel is sold under the market price in the sending country and – critically also – whether this has had an injurious effect on the domestic industry.

Dumping is notoriously difficult to prove but it is, quite legitimately, a remedy available to domestic industry when it feels it is subject to unfair competition. The processes for these complaints are defined in the WTO Anti-Dumping Code and are referenced in the NZ China FTA.  Under the FTA New Zealand is obliged to inform China when a properly constituted anti-dumping application is accepted.  There is no mystery about this – it is part of normal trade relations between countries operating within a recognised framework of international trade law.

But mystery there has been over the last week or so as the Chinese reaction to the possible New Zealand case and others launched by other countries has been the subject of speculation.  At times the mystery resembled a game of Cluedo – who spoke to whom in China and threatened a trade war?

No-one should expect the Chinese Government to have been thrilled to learn of the possibility of another anti-dumping action.  But the actions described – messages passed New Zealand exporters to China, possibly from industry rather than official sources – hardly seem to reflect a deliberate strategy with the aim of dissuading action by the New Zealand Government.  In any event the likelihood of retaliatory action has now been dismissed by the Chinese Ambassador.

There are some bigger lessons to be learnt from all this.  First, trade disputes may sometimes happen, particular when global supply and demand pressures are brought to bear.  Fortunately we have, through the WTO and our FTAs, the rules, protocols and processes to deal with them and to ensure that they do not escalate into trade wars.  That’s the chief advantage of trade agreements which detractors fail to grasp.  Rules are better, especially for smaller economies, than no rules at all.

The second lesson is that when it comes to dealing with China we need to realise that this is a big country with layers of officialdom and complex Government ties with industry, with multiple points of contact with New Zealand businesses.The random acts of individual officials do not necessarily reflect the considered policy of the Chinese Government.   This is not to say that New Zealand companies operating in China should not be alert to potential risks.  Indeed it is good to see that our leading exporters in China have people on the ground who can hear the jungle drums.  But these messages need to be seen in context.

The third lesson, and one we have learned with a number of large economies including the United States, the European Union, Indonesia and even our good friends Australia, is that we are not without protection from the WTO in the event trade disputes are not possible to solve at the bilateral level.  In these circumstances a clear head and a firm resolve are the best ways to meet challenges head on.

In the case of steel we will have to see where the anti-dumping process leads.  We should not let this cloud our judgment or our overriding interest in continuing to build a multi-faceted relationship with China which is based firmly on the rule of law and mutual respect.

 

 

 



 

 

Open letter to Andrew Little, Leader, Labour Party, on TPP

 

Andrew Little MP
Leader of the Labour Party
WELLINGTON

 

Dear Andrew

Thank you for clarifying your opposition to the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) on your recent blog post “My thoughts on the TPP” [1].  In the interests of open and respectful debate, I would like to comment on the key points of your argument:

Labour is a party of free trade. This isn’t a product of the last couple of high profile trade ministers in Labour governments. It goes back the full 80 years since we first formed a government. We have always championed the cause of better access to markets and free trade.

There can be no argument with this.  I myself (as a public servant) worked directly for former Trade Minister Jim Sutton and can attest to the tough debates with the Alliance Coalition partner about the merits of free trade.  It is precisely this long history of bipartisanship, which makes some of us, both inside and outside the party, so disappointed with your decision.

The National government has handled the negotiations of the TPPA appallingly. Seven years of total secrecy have aroused natural suspicion about its contents. The government did nothing to inform New Zealanders about the negotiations, the issues, progress – anything in fact. The 6000 pages of agreement were dumped in November last year and academics, NGOs and citizens have been left to work their way through the document and form their own conclusions.

People are invariably afraid of what they don’t know and the long and tortuous negotiating process was hopeless in this regard.  The 6000 pages of text were released, together with plain language descriptions, some three months ago, much earlier for example than other FTAs.  Of course NGOs and citizens have to come to their own assessment and this has been assisted by the release of the National Interest Analysis, which provides further insight. The proper place to come to judgments about all this is in the course of the ratification process.  This is exactly what has happened with other FTAs.

The deal is worth less to New Zealand than the government touted. Extending copyright will add costs to libraries and universities. The cost of pharmaceuticals to New Zealand will rise.

The analysis of TPP has been undertaken by the same officials who advised the previous Labour Government and may advise the next.  I suggest, but agree it is a matter of debate, that the additional costs to libraries and universities arising from the copyright change is marginal at best when compared to the other benefits.  (Some in the industry are already claiming the Government’s estimation of the costs of copyright are too high).  It is not clear that the cost of pharmaceuticals will rise since there is little change to Pharmac or to the patent and data protection regime for medicines: at the end of the day the costs to individual New Zealanders are determined by Pharmac and the Government.  The Government is on record as saying these costs will not rise.  You should hold them to account for that.

An email from an acquaintance of mine, a strong pro-free trader and pro-TPPAer, suggested I ‘take note’ of the Canadian trade minister’s statement on the agreement.  The minister, Chrystia Freeland, set out how she is dealing with the TPPA – meeting with unions, businesses, NGOs and holding town hall meetings. She called for a non-partisan debate. All of which I thought was a fantastic idea and was happy to note. Still, I did wonder why my friend hadn’t also sent it to the National Party asking them to take note.

If this was me (!), the point I was making was that the Canadian Government, while having reservations about an agreement signed by its predecessor, was proceeding to sign TPP and allow the ratification debate to continue.  As I understand it you don’t want the Government to sign TPP, which will prevent the ratification debate.  Your contributions this week have been far from non-partisan. The Government has already committed itself to a process of outreach and hui around the country to discuss TPP as a prelude to the Parliamentary discussion.

I have read a lot of the TPPA myself. The free trade aspects are naturally attractive, even though the deal on dairy is hopeless, meat is a little better and the rest amounts to not much considering it is an agreement covering 800 million consumers and 40 per cent of the world’s GDP. The benefit of genuine free trade agreements is the potential to create new markets that previously didn’t exist.

I agree that the dairy aspects of TPP are not as good as they could have been and as we had hoped.  But they are in the view of the negotiators and the dairy industry the best that could have been achieved in the circumstances.  Dairy still benefits more than any other sector from tariff cuts in key markets and the establishment of new tariff quotas.  The meat deal – specifically beef to Japan – is a significant market opening about which the industry has welcomed. Without this we will not be able to compete with Australia which already has an FTA with Japan. To call the rest ‘not much’ is a serious under-estimation – tariff reductions and/or elimination for horticultural products including kiwifruit, wine, wood products and seafood cannot so easily be dismissed. Addressing tariff and non-tariff barriers for manufactured products like health technologies and agricultural equipment is also significant.  This will result in the creation of new markets as you suggest.

Two things that disturb me are, first: the restriction on New Zealand legislating to regulate land sales to non-resident foreigners (Labour’s policy is to require them to build a new house, not buy an existing one, and we would be unable to do this under the TPPA)

Labour’s clearly signaled ‘bottom-line’ for TPP was that it should provide for restrictions on land sales to non-resident foreigners.  This is possible under TPP: a future Government could if it wished apply a stamp duty or other tax to restrict these sales.  Opinion is divided on whether an outright ban could be introduced, but there is a ready alternative to meet Labour’s policy position.

And secondly the requirement to allow other TPPA countries, their citizens (including corporates) to have a say on changes to many New Zealand laws and regulations…

Constraints on law-making and opening up our political system to overseas interests is unheard of.

 TPP does provide for our partners to make their views known on any measure, which may be introduced that could have an impact on trade.  But these provisions are far from ‘unheard of’.  They are already enshrined in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and other FTAs concluded by Labour including the China FTA.  They are what make it possible for New Zealand to be consulted on changes affecting our exports to other markets such as subsidies under the Farm Bill or a discriminatory labeling or levy system.  Importantly these provisions retain the right of the Government to continue to regulate: the Government may have to listen to the views of trading partners but not necessarily heed them.  Bottom line is we do this already and have been doing so for years now.

For instance we would have to let Carlos Slim, the wealthy Mexican telecom company owner, vet any regulation of our telecommunications industry.

Not quite, the Government is required to publish notice of its proposed changes as it does in the Official Gazette, but not advise everyone personally. Mr Slim may offer comment if he wishes. The Government still decides.

As a social democratic party, we have always stood for effective parliamentary democracy. That means a system that is accountable only to those who elect its representatives and which serves all citizens, not the privileged and the elite.

There is no arguing with this either. In this case it is the democratically elected Government of the day which signs and ratifies treaties.  The Parliament is invited to consider and pass the legislation, which gives effect to the Treaty’s obligations.  TPP is no different in this respect from any other treaty whether in the field of human rights, climate change or labour.  A future Government may also leave TPP after due process albeit with the loss of benefits this would entail.

I hope you will consider these points.

Yours sincerely

Stephen Jacobi

 

Under the microscope: TPP and copyright

In this article Stephen is joined by copyright expert Ken Moon of A J Park to discuss the impact of TPP’s provisions on copyright in New Zealand.

“The TPP intellectual property provisions, while a complex set of legal commitments, will not result in much change to the way things are done in New Zealand except in relation to copyright term and TPMs. This is most certainly not simply “US copyright law” has been claimed”

See the article here

Understanding the Trans Pacific Partnership

In two articles published in Idealog magazine Stephen outlines what’s at stake for New Zealand in TPP.

Read these articles here and here.

Is there still hope for TPP?

Stephen assesses the prospects for the Trans Pacific Partnership in 2015 here.

The big question for trade policy watchers as we start a new year is whether the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations might be concluded.  Last year I thought negotiations could be concluded by April.  I was wrong.  This year I can make no such prediction, save one – if TPP is not finished soon, we may need to move on to something else.

 

 

APEC in Beijing – let a thousand flowers bloom

Read Stephen’s latest commentary on the outlook for the November APEC Summit  here

The 23 New Zealand business leaders attending the APEC event might well say “let a thousand flowers bloom” – with a foot in TPP and RCEP and a strong relationship with China and our trade-thumping FTA New Zealand is well placed to benefit from whatever emerges in Beijing.

 

A hitch hiker’s guide to trade agreements

Read Stephen’s presentation to U3A in Wellington in which he outlines the background to New Zealand’s trade with the rest of the world, the Government’s approach to trade policy and the state of the TPP negotiations.

Lifting export performance

Read Stephen’s article in the National Business Review in which he outlines some things that need to happen to lift New Zealand’s exports

“Competition today is less between countries than between competing value chains.  New Zealand’s ability to participate depends on the extent to which we can develop greater flexibility in becoming part of these value chains and integrating more deeply into global markets.  Beyond managing the exchange rate, we need inspirational business leadership, the commitment of our workforce, encouraging government policies and bipartisan support from across the political spectrum”.

TPP grinds inexorably on

It ain’t over, till it’s over, writes Stephen in his latest commentary on TPP published by NBR On Line.

Reports of the imminent demise of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) are greatly exaggerated.  While some momentum has certainly been lost in recent months, TPP is still very much a “live” negotiation and economies are re-engaging in a flurry of bilateral consultations in advance of another Lead Negotiators’ gathering in July.

Read the full comment here.