Herald on TPP talks

The Herald editorial:

New Zealanders will be mildly amused that their Prime Minister has stepped into the breach left by US President Barack Obama’s inability to be at Bali this week to chair an important meeting of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. But we can be proud, too, that New Zealand still has a leading role in this project. …

It would be easy for such an ambitious project to become unwieldy and lose focus as more countries join the talks. There is always the risk that late-comers are joining the talks for the sake of appearances rather than with a serious intent.

But the last to join, Japan, seems serious. In fact its reformist Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, may be the leader keenest to have something definite agreed by the end of this year. That goal, set by President Obama, should concentrate the minds of the meeting that it falls to to chair.

If Japan agrees to a phasing out of agricultural tariffs, that would be huge.

But if it can lower barriers to our exports, New Zealand may have to make concessions in other areas. Since trade negotiations typically proceed in secrecy so that positions are not solidified by political pressure, the possible concessions can arouse fearful speculative opposition.

Opponents of in New Zealand fear the Government will have to compromise on pharmaceutical purchasing, forcing Pharmac to buy prescription drugs on terms dictated by suppliers, particularly in the United States. More generally, opponents warn that the foreign companies will be able to claim damages in international courts against any Government decision that harms their investment here.

The other area of potential concern is around the US proposed intellectual property chapter. It has provisions in it such as extending copyright from life plus 50 years to life plus 70 years. I think life plus 20 is more than enough personally.

To date the NZ Government position has been to reject clauses that would require a change to our existing IP laws. I hope that position continues. There can be economic costs to having overly restrictive IP laws – as Australia has calculated.

 

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