In the unlikely event it ever came to pass, Labour’s proposed course of action on the Trans-Pacific Partnership – flout the bits it doesn’t like – would constitute the most reckless act by any New Zealand government of the post-Muldoon era.
For those of us who want to see Labour re-emerge as a plausible alternative government, it was dispiriting enough to witness finance spokesman Grant Robertson first float the idea Labour might ban foreigners from buying New Zealand property even if it contravened the TPP. But not only has Andrew Little’s repeated doubling down on this reckless notion raised the stakes sharply, it has called into question Labour’s capacity to govern responsibly.
Andrew Little echoes Robertson’s contention that a government he leads can simply legislate around irksome elements of the TPP – an unconscionable policy position for a serious political party. No trade deal, nor international treaty of any kind, would be worth the paper it’s written on if signatories opted out of unfavourable clauses on the grounds of national interest.
If Labour’s policy of selective implementation were adopted by the 11 other signatories, the TPP would dissolve overnight.
Not just the TPP. Labour claims it wants countries to enter into a binding agreement on reducing carbon emissions. You can’t credibly wish for that, and also claim you will ignore provisions of binding agreements you don’t like.
Helen Clark’s comments in support of the TPP made crystal clear how the case for New Zealand staying out of the deal, however flawed, is an impossibly hard political lift. After all, we’re talking about 11 of our most important export markets that, between them, comprise 40 per cent of global GDP.
In any case, unlike the Greens or protectionist elements of the former Alliance (several of whose most prominent activists populate Andrew Little’s office), Labour is a pro-free trade party, specifically endorsing the TPP process as recently as 2013.
In trying to placate opponents of the TPP without further trashing the party’s tenuous economic credentials, Labour has half baked a policy that nobody in their right mind could take seriously.
Little claiming Labour will just ignore the parts of TPP it doesn’t like is his worst blunder as leader. It will haunt him with long-term damage.