Trade wars do New Zealand no favours

United States President Donald Trump’s decision to slap tariffs on aluminium and steel imports from other nations was not surprising in itself. What was surprising was the nature of the announcement. It was an announcement that completely flies in face of the countries that America wants to negotiate trade deals with. It flies in the face of earlier comments from Mr Trump that America could rejoin a favourable Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership.

I am in two minds about it. On one hand I have no doubt that this is a very destabilizing act by Mr Trump and the United States Government, which will help to stoke international tensions a a time when the world is already stressed by North Korea, the ongoing conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. Complicating an already messy trade picture, it will put trade negotiators on edge trying conclude deals already in progress and delay the start of any new deals that are planned.

On the other, New Zealand, despite our small size and vulnerability to being buffeted by the actions of larger players, has options. It is for example among the priority non-E.U. nations that the United Kingdom is interested in concluding a trade agreement with and trying to loosen restrictions on New Zealanders movements in and out of the U.K. New Zealand could also consider trying to negotiate some sort of agreement with Russia, which is something that has come up under the previous National-led Government of former Prime Minister John Key and his successor former Prime Minister Bill English.

Having said all of that, there are reasons for New Zealand to be very concerned. We have a weak framework in terms of domestic law for coping with the demands that international trade partners place on us, whilst not necessarily being fair or proper in what we get back. We need to work on a set of checks and balances that prevent C.P.T.P.P. type monstrosities from going through without the support of the New Zealand tax payer who will have to live with any consequences of one. This work needs to be done before we negotiate any more and thus needs to start quickly. But with New Zealand First having decided to support the C.P.T.P.P., which it so vehemently opposed in opposition, only the Green Party seems likely to attempt such a Bill of Parliament and they do not have the numbers in the House of Representatives.

All in all, there is little if anything to look forward though if a trade war does start. Our geographical location counts against us in terms of cost of transporting materials. Our relatively small economic stature limits our clout in places such as the World Trade Organization, where New Zealand would need to go to settle disputes, and despite it certainly enhancing our reputation there is not a lot we can do if other nations play dirty.

New Zealand First hangs in the balance: Is rural development its saviour?

For six years, New Zealand First was one of the biggest foes that the Trans Pacific Partnership had. It, along with the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand, represented a bloc in Parliament who wanted New Zealand to have nothing to do with what some called a corporate take over. It marched on the streets alongside the Greens and Labour M.P.’s. It assisted with petitions and introduced legislation to Parliament in an attempt to derail the T.P.P.A.

But in January this year, the Government, with New Zealand First standing proudly alongside, announced that they would support the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement.

The response was swift and it could also be lethal. New Zealand First plunged in support from getting 9 Members of Parliament post election to being so low in the polls that it would not be back in Parliament if an election were held today.

There are a number of potential causes for the decline of the centrist/populist party that had in its ranks a growing number of younger people including myself.

The Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement u-turn that New Zealand First has done might be the final straw for a lot of people who see it as the ultimate betrayal of everything the party stands for. Up to the election it had campaigned steadfastly against the agreement in any form and got my vote for that reason. And whilst Fletcher Tabuteau’s Fighting Foreign Corporate Control Bill might still be potentially revived, is Mr Tabuteau still interested?

Internal strife in the party, whose Board seems to be sluggish and averse to communication, has not helped. In 2015, having managed to gain 3 new Members of Parliament New Zealand First was optimistic about its future. Members of the Party and Members of Parliament were saying they could double the number of M.P.’s at the 2017 election. None seemed to have made any allowance for a Labour resurgence. Nor did anyone reckon with “Jacindamania”, the phenomenon that swept New Zealand in the weeks following Jacinda Ardern being appointed Leader of the Labour Party/Leader of the Opposition and then, following the election and New Zealand First’s decision to support Labour, Prime Minister.

A third problem could be Shane Jones. The former Labour Member of Parliament left in 2014 after questions were raised about him approving the application of a Chinese businessman for New Zealand citizenship. In June 2017 he was confirmed at no. 8 on the New Zealand First Party list for the election, over and above a number of hard working loyal party members and candidates deserving of promotion.


Could the party be saved from itself by the rural development fund? New Zealand First has long been a proponent of supporting the regions, which have been ignored in large part by the National and Labour parties, and are traditionally conservative. Part of New Zealand First policy at the election was a rural development fund that would support the rural communities that have faced long term decline from the closure of meat works, the centralisation of services such as the post office, banking, hospital and medical centres as well as schools and police stations.

Mr Jones is Regional Development Minister, and on 23 February 2018 he and Ms Ardern unveiled the N.Z.$3 billion rural development fund. This will fund a range of regional developments and the initial funding allows for investment in railways and totara forestry in Northland.

Given its struggles internally and externally, New Zealand First will be hoping that this enables the party to claw back some of the respect lost. This happened it announced it would support the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement’s successor, the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership (C.P.T.P.P.).

Text of T.P.P.A. replacement to be released

A few weeks ago, New Zealand First betrayed its membership by deciding to support Labour’s attempt to advance the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement. Many said that they would quit the party over it and the party has slumped in the most recent Colmar Brunton Poll to just 3%.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said that she will unveil the text of the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement’s replacement, the so called Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership (or C.P.T.P.P.)on Wednesday. Ms Ardern insists that the C.P.T.P.P. is a significant step forward for New Zealand trade development. New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters, who believes that his party can now support the agreement, says that the clauses that made the party oppose it have now been removed and he can tolerate it.

WRONG. The clauses have not been removed. They have only been suspended in an attempt to get United States President Donald Trump to back track on his withdrawal of the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement a few days after he took office. No changes of substance have been made and the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement is still the trojan horse it was before Mr Trump decided to withdraw the United States from it.

Nothing has changed in other words.

I support New Zealand developing strong trade relations with other nations. But there are checks and balances that should be in place before we have these agreements. The purpose of these checks and balances is to make sure that due process is followed and that the Agreement in whatever form it turns out to be, really will help New Zealand. For this to happen New Zealand First’s “Fight Foreign Corporate Control Bill should have been advanced instead of being shot down by National and A.C.T. on the grounds of being “anti-trade”.

There is a clearly defined difference between having a trade deal and undermining New Zealand so that it is more susceptible to corporate takeover. Having a trade deal means New Zealand can conduct trade with the nations that it negotiated the deal/s in question with. New Zealand respects them as nations and they respect us. Businesses are invited to submit concerns and suggestions at the select committee stage and the committee draft recommendations that are then agreed to or dropped. A corporate deal that favours multinationals and undermines New Zealand’s sovereignty does no such thing.

So I wait with baited breath to see what happens to this dastardly agreement in its latest phase. But this particular deal is not one New Zealand should be proud of or a part of.

New Zealand First betrays members with T.P.P.A. support

For six years New Zealand First was one of the stalwart parties in New Zealand opposing the Trans Pacific Partnership. From the first rumblings about the danger it posted in 2011, through to Fletcher Tabuteau’s Bill of Parliament attempting to derail the T.P.P.A. New Zealand First consistently campaigned against it.

As a former New Zealand First member, their decision to support the T.P.P.A. is a major betrayal of the party. It is a major betrayal of the principles on which the party was founded and completely undermines the hard work done by so many party members and Members of Parliament who attended and organized protests and public meetings, petitioned the public, made submissions and so forth.

In the end the only party that has steadfastly opposed the T.P.P.A. from start to finish has been the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand. This will likely draw some people who might have otherwise voted for New Zealand First away from the party that supposedly stood for common sense.

I do not know if I can continue supporting New Zealand First. One of the primary reasons for voting for them was toderail the T.P.P.A. Another one of the reasons donating to them up to May last year was to help get more anti-T.P.P.A. candidates into Parliament.

The reasons for steadfastly opposing the T.P.P.A. are pretty simple. It is not a free or fair trade deal in that much of it was written at the behest of faceless corporations. The Investor-State-Dispute-Settlement clauses were never fully removed or effectively neutralized. Thus a corporation can still take the New Zealand Government to court for passing legislation that the corporation does not like. The T.P.P.A. also threatens to undermine the social, environmental and human rights framework of New Zealand. That is not okay.

I am too conservative for the Green Party, but I can see them doing well at New Zealand First’s expense in 2020.

T.P.P. name change should not fool anyone

So the T.P.P.A. negotiators changed the name of their baby. The Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement has now become the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for the Trans Pacific Partnership.

The change of name to the C.P.T.P.P. should not fool anyone. Nor should the the attempt to water it down. Whilst I certainly approve of any attempt to weaken it, the best thing that can happen to the C.P.T.P.P. is what I have said all along: LET IT DIE.

We need to have comprehensive trade relations and that is something I have said consistently all along.  What we do not need is a huge clumsy, ambiguous deal that is not clear on New Zealand sovereignty – I honestly thought concluding a trade agreement would result in a relatively small document, and not something considerably larger than what I imagine the U.S. Federal Tax Code to be when you stack it up all in paper.

There are other reasons why New Zealand should not need the C.P.T.P.P. or T.P.P or whatever you want to call it. We are known for playing by the rules that are set down by the World Trade Organization and that New Zealand negotiators are for the most part honest and transparent. That should give nations wanting to negotiate deals confidence to come to us direct and talk instead of trying to achieve what I thought was an impossible ask even if the T.P.P. was an appropriate format in which to be conducting trade negotiations. With 12 nations on board and thereby 12 separate sets of domestic demands that need to be met, there was never a doubt in my mind that one nation or another would eventually throw their toys out of the cot over something – the U.S. has withdrawn; Canada staged a bizarre no show and Japan and other nations including New Zealand had significant domestic resistance that needed to be addressed.

The trade agreements we have, I accept. If they are being negotiated, one of the things I would like to see inserted is a review clause that ensures all deals are up for review after x (say 20)years. If they are several years old like the 2008 New Zealand-China F.T.A., then we should talk to the other nation/s involved about agreeing to have a review within a few years.

Even though the Government says it has got New Zealand a better deal, it does not change the fact that the C.P.T.P.P. is no better than its poorly conceived predecessor. And like its predecessor, it deserves the same fate.

Let it die. Now.