Most interesting was an attempt by Labour MP and Trade Spokesperson David Clark to make the case that it was the Government’s fault that bi-partisanship on trade policy had broken down. His argument was that it was convention that Government would be familiar with Opposition policy and ensure that it would stay within the bounds of this policy when determining negotiating positions for FTA negotiations. He stated that Labour had a long standing policy of wanting the right to ban property speculators from abroad and that Labour had campaigned on this policy at the last election. He suggested that MFAT and Ministers must have known about the policy and were remiss not negotiating an outcome that accommodated it.
Now let me explain a little about how TPP was negotiated on services and investment. Essentially TPP has frozen the status quo, and in some cases some liberalisation of the status quo was negotiated. Some countries had policy that allows “bans” on foreign investment in urban real estate. New Zealand has not had such policy. Those TPP members did not actively advocate for this policy. The policy was already there and became “bound” as part of the outcome. “Binding” means that policy cannot become more restrictive than in the past. Policy can change but it can only do so in the liberalisation direction. (In days of old this was also known as “standstill and rollback”.)
Now while existing NZ policy was “bound” what is unusual is that New Zealand – quite late in the negotiation (post Andrew Little’s announcement of his conditions I believe) – negotiated the right to adopt discriminatory taxation policies. This was done to allow a future Government to “restrict” sales to foreigners through a stamp duty or other tax measure (I believe that a very high tax of this type can have the same impact as a “ban” for most investors but accept that it might not deter a super rich person – the exception but not the rule).
Now lets get back to Labour Party policy and what Labour campaigned on at the last election. The policy states “Labour will not support provisions in trade agreements that limit the government’s right to provide, fund, or regulate public services, such as health or education. Trade agreements should not prohibit the government from RESTRICTING sale of land and infrastructure or regulating the sale of state assets.”
TPP is fully consistent with this policy. TPP allows a future Government to “restrict” land sales to foreigners and also fits with the other elements of this policy.
And if you search for transcripts for what Andrew little said in the middle of the year about his pre-conditions for Labour support for TPP, he also uses the term “restrict”.
This concept of ban is more recent, and I don’t think you should expect negotiators to know the policy was really about allowing a “ban” when all official comment was referring to “restrict”.
So the TPP has fully complied with Labour’s five bottom lines. They’ve just tried to find an excuse to oppose it to appease their union overlords.