Clark, Labour and TPP

The NZ Herald editorial:

Sometimes it takes someone a little removed from the fray to put the right perspective on an issue.

New Zealanders have sorely needed such insight on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, so deeply polarised are they about its potential benefit to this country.

And there could be few people better placed to supply this than former Prime Minister . …

Ms Clark’s statement, a rare one on a domestic issue since she became the Administrator of the UN Development Programme, emphasised how foolish that would be.

What had always haunted her as prime minister, she said, was the development of a series of trade blocs of which New Zealand was not part. That would be “unthinkable” for this country as an export-orientated, small trading nation.

“So, of course, New Zealand has to be in on the action with the and go for the very best deal it can as the agreement expands beyond the original four economies to a wider regional agreement.” …

Ms Clark’s statement also carried a message for her former colleagues.

Curiously for a party that formerly embraced free trade, it has insisted its support for the TPP is contingent on the meeting of several “non-negotiable bottom lines”.

Labour may imagine this plays well with those people adamantly opposed to the pact.

But most importantly, as its former leader implies, it reveals a failure to to appreciate the big picture. That dictates a small trading nation cannot afford to stand aside from an agreement of such magnitude for the Asia-Pacific region.

The partisan part of me wants Labour to vote against TPP, as I think it will continue their descent away from electability. But actually it would be a bad thing for NZ to lose its long-standing bipartisan support for trade deals.


When Helen Clark came out in broad endorsement of New Zealand’s participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, she lifted the lid on what is going to become a real headache for Andrew Little. If negotiation of the mammoth trade treaty is completed (which could well have occurred by the time you read this) the Labour Party is going to have to make a decision about whether or not it will throw its support behind New Zealand joining the bloc.

Until now, Labour has been assiduously ambiguous on the subject. This seems to be because some swivel-eyed members of the party base are convinced that the treaty is a sinister National Party scheme to outsource sovereignty to Halliburton, Pfizer and the Rothschild family. Not wishing to alienate these noisy activists, the party has been careful to avoid expressing any enthusiasm for the deal.

Yet …

But at the same time, it has not ruled out supporting the deal should agreement be reached. A significant chunk of Labour’s parliamentary caucus is serious about governing. They care more about pragmatism than party slogans and, when pushed, they care more about the national interest than they do about oppositional politics.

But are there enough of them? I’m not sure there are.

The problem is that weasel words will only get you so far. Complaining about the secret negotiating process won’t cut it once the negotiations have been wrapped up and the terms of the deal have been laid bare. The debate then has nowhere to go but to the ultimate merits of the thing.

Despite persistent claims to the contrary, joining the TPP is going to require the enactment of implementing legislation. When those votes are called, Labour MPs will need to make a call on turning its back on vastly improved access to markets representing nearly 40 per cent of the world’s GDP. Whatever decision is made, somebody is going to have to be disappointed.

I think it will be the party activists. If the TPP represents a halfway-decent deal for New Zealand, my bet is that Labour MPs will give it their blessing. There will be some public handwringing, of course, and reservations will be loudly stated. Unlike NZ First or the Greens, however, Labour is simply too integral to our political system to indulge in fantasies of the country prospering as a hermit kingdom closed off from the world economy.

I hope Liam is right, but I am less optimistic. They have abandoned bipartisan support for stable monetary policy that targets inflation, and in recent elections have had a policy of effective nationalisation of electricity generators.

For Helen Clark, the only Labour leader to have won a general election in almost 30 years, to say that “of course” we should “be in on the action with the TPP” starkly exposes the reality of the situation. Labour is a serious, mainstream party. It is inclined to deal with the world as it is.

If Labour don’t support TPP, I can see a number of election ads quoting her words back to them!

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