Environment Minister wants to regulate to force cow destocking

Yesterday the Environment Minister David Parker said in a Q&A interview that environmental regulations were needed to push down the number of cows in New Zealand.

Asked whether regulations would force farmers to destock Parker said “In some areas, it will”.

He says that the Government has won the political battle in a representative democracy so can do what they want – but they still may need the support of NZ First.

Corin Dann You did promise a lot, in Opposition, on water and on cleaning up our rivers, making them swimmable. Will you deliver on that?

David Parker Most certainly. I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to fight for environmental causes. This is my last time through cabinet, and I’ll have failed as a politician if I don’t use my position now to stop this getting…

Corin Dann So, what does success look like?

David Parker Success, in the short term, looks like stopping the degradation getting worse everywhere; within five years, having measureable improvements; and then, over the succeeding generation, getting back to where we used to be.

Corin Dann So an admirable goal, but the question is — how will you do it? Now, you have a— you’ve talked about beefing up the current guidelines, the national policy statement on water. How far will you go? And I guess the key question is here — will you cap the number of cows that can be in a certain paddock, depending on nutrient levels? In other words, potentially force farmers to destock?

David Parker Well, cow numbers have already peaked and are going down, but yes, in some areas, the number of cows per hectare is higher than the environment can sustain. That won’t be done through a raw cap on cow numbers; it will be done on nutrient limits, the amount of nutrient that can be lost from a farm to a waterway, because it’s not just a dairy cow issue.

Corin Dann But it will have the same effect, though, won’t it?

David Parker In some areas, it will. I mean, that’s one of the really difficult issues that we’ve got work being done on at the moment by both my own ministry, but the Land and Water Forum and various NGOs. How do you allocate the right to discharge nutrient where you’ve got more than the environment can sustain between those who are currently doing it and those who want to do it with undeveloped land?

And Parker said that farmers would not be compensated:

Corin Dann …you’re going to have to force some farmers in some areas, depending on those conditions, to destock. Now, does that open up you do legal action? Do they get compensation?

David Parker No, you don’t compensate people for stopping pollution. Just because you could pollute last year doesn’t mean to say you should be allowed to do it or paid to stop doing it.

This may help the environment, but what about regional economies?

Corin Dann Have you done the work that shows what the economic impact for some, particularly dairying regions, would be?

David Parker We haven’t done an analysis of what the economic effects would be. But it’s very, very difficult to model, because second-best from the farmer perspective may still be very close to the same outcome profit-wise.

I wonder if they have done an analysis of what the environmental effects would be. Maybe that’s very difficult to model too, so they just do what they think might work and too bad for the farmers affected.

Corin Dann But how are you going to make farmers change if they don’t want to?

David Parker Well, the economics will drive that change where there is a high-value land use. Where economics don’t, regulation will.

There’s only three ways to change behaviour — education, regulation and price.

We fought an election on this issue. We’ve got a representative democracy. We’ve won the political battle. Now it’s about implementation. Most of the farming sector agree with that. There is the occasional outlier. One of the Federated Farmers heads from the Wairarapa during the last election denied that dairy farming caused pollution of rivers. So there are some people who are in denial. Now, those people will have to be regulated to do the right thing, because they may not be willing to do it voluntarily. That’s the purpose of environmental regulation.

I think there is fairly universal agreement that the environment needs to be treated and protected better.

We’ve got a representative democracy. But that doesn’t necessarily mean Parker has won the political battle yet.

Labour may not care about forcing some farmers out of business, and the Greens have  wanted lower cow numbers, but National and probably NZ First could be quite reluctant to impact too severely on farming in the regions.

This wasn’t covered by the Labour-NZ First coalition agreement. The only related mentions:

Environment

  • If the Climate Commission determines that agriculture is to be included in the ETS,
    then upon entry, the free allocation to agriculture will be 95% but with all revenues from
    this source recycled back into agriculture in order to encourage agricultural innovation,
    mitigation and additional planting of forestry.
  • No resource rentals for water in this term of Parliament.
  • Higher water quality standards for urban and rural using measurements which take into
    account seasonal differences.

So no agreement on destocking regulations. Of course they have kept there more detailed agreement secret.

Q&A – David Parker on farming and the environment

This morning David Parker was questioned about environmental issues, the science involved in addressing problems, and possible effects on farming.

It’s worth checking out on +1 or when it becomes available online. Parker was informative at times, but looked sheepish when talking about tenure reviews.

The panel includes Chris Allen of Federated Farmers, who says that he and farmers share many of the same environmental aims that Parker is talking about. How and how quickly are key questions.

Flaws in land management report need to be rectified quickly

A report on management of New Zealand land was released by the Ministry for the Environment and Statistics New Zealand, with admissions it lacked data and the data used was six years old. It is important to have a good plan for land use and environmental protection.

ODT editorial: Insights into the environment

The “Our land 2018” report, released by the Ministry for the Environment and Statistics New Zealand this week, confirms the need for more action to improve land management.

Environment Minister David Parker says he is particularly troubled by how much  urban growth is occurring in irreplaceable highly productive land. Even in a country as lucky as New Zealand there are only limited qualities of these high-class soils.

The report identifies New Zealand is losing some of its most productive land to houses. Agriculture is under pressure from the loss of highly productive and versatile land due to urbanisation.

There has been a 7% reduction in land used for agriculture, meaning land and soil is lost to urban subdivisions, forestry and lifestyle blocks. Mr Parker is taking steps to address issues such as the loss of prime market gardening land around Pukekohe, as Auckland expands, as well as the impact of lifestyle blocks on the most productive land.

He recognises the need to ensure there is enough land to build the houses people need while noting the need for protecting the most productive areas of the country.

It was natural for towns and cities to be established and grow near productive land, but as the population grows it puts pressure on the best land. This is a major issue in Auckland, and it has been a problem in Dunedin where marginal land on the fringes of the city has been zoned against housing but productive flat land on the Taieri plain has been increasingly subdivided.

Federated Farmers is disappointed with much of the report, saying the data is six years out of date. The report lacks significant data and admits this multiple times. One of the factors highlighted by scientists is the shocking lack of rural waste data. Better records and tracking of waste disposal is a key to understanding the risks waterways, soil, air and towns face — especially in an expanding industry known for generating important volumes of non-natural waste.

Parker needs to ensure that more research is done and more data is collated.

The report finds New Zealand loses about 192 million tonnes of soil each year to erosion, of which 84 million is from pasture land. The high volume of soil being swept into the waterways is choking aquatic life.

The Government, farmers and others with an interest in land have a role to play in better managing erosion-prone land. Much of the response to the report comes from environmental agencies firmly opposed to farming. However, farmers are not the only ones with a stake in the environment.

If, as predicted, we get more and heavier rain events erosion will be an ongoing challenge. There are many hilly areas prone to erosion. A lot of land has been cleared of erosion protective forest.

The report also confirms the continued loss of New Zealand’s limited wetlands which contain some of the most precious biodiversity and filter contaminants from the land. More must be done to protect these.

A lot of wetlands have been drained and converted into pasture – and housing, like the flood prone South Dunedin flat – since European immigration began.

Mr Parker has taken note of the report, and its shortcomings. He understands the need to have balance in the environment and has asked officials to start work on a National Policy Statement for versatile land and high-class soils. His contribution is important.

The effort of the Government in publishing this report, and the strong self-criticism implied in its findings, should be applauded. Further reports of this character will be needed to get better insights into how New Zealand manages its land and resources.

It is a bit alarming that the report has such poor data to work with. That’s the fault of past governments. Parker now has the opportunity to put this right – but with the rush to built a lot more houses he may have to act quickly.

Operation Burnham inquiry warranted ‘in the public interest’

Attorney General David Parker announced this afternoon that there would be an inquiry into Operation Burnham, the attackn in Afghanistan that has been criticised in the book Hit & Run.

“In deciding whether to initiate an inquiry I have considered material including certain video footage of the operation. The footage I have reviewed does not seem to me to corroborate some key aspects of the book Hit & Run.

“The footage suggests that there was a group of armed individuals in the village.

“However, the material I have seen does not conclusively answer some of the questions raised by the authors.

“In light of that, and bearing in mind the need for the public to have confidence in the NZDF, I have decided in the public interest that an inquiry is warranted.”

The inquiry’s terms of reference include:

  • The allegations of civilian deaths.
  • The allegation that NZDF knowingly transferred a man to a prison where he would be tortured.
  • The allegation that soldiers returned to the valley to destroy homes on purpose.

Approval for Inquiry into Operation Burnham

Attorney-General David Parker has today announced a Government Inquiry will be held into Operation Burnham and related events.

The operation undertaken in Tirgiran Valley, Afghanistan, by NZSAS troops and other nations’ forces operating as part of the International Security Assistance Force took place on 21-22 August 2010.

It was the subject of the book Hit & Run by authors Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson which contained a number of serious allegations against New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) personnel involved in the operation.

“In deciding whether to initiate an inquiry I have considered material including certain video footage of the operation,” says Mr Parker.

“The footage I have reviewed does not seem to me to corroborate some key aspects of the book Hit & Run.

“The footage suggests that there was a group of armed individuals in the village.

“However, the material I have seen does not conclusively answer some of the questions raised by the authors.

“In light of that, and bearing in mind the need for the public to have confidence in the NZDF, I have decided in the public interest that an inquiry is warranted.”

Commissioning this inquiry does not mean the Government accepts the criticisms of the actions of SAS forces on the ground, although their conduct is squarely within the inquiry’s purview and will be thoroughly examined.\

The inquiry, established under s 6(3) of the Inquiries Act 2013, will be undertaken by two persons of the highest repute, former Supreme Court judge Sir Terence Arnold and Sir Geoffrey Palmer. As required by statute, it will act independently, impartially and fairly.

Given the classified nature of some information that will be made available to the inquiry, it is possible that two forms of report will be provided; one a public version and a second version referring to classified or confidential information.

Mr Parker said the inquiry would seek to establish the facts in connection with the allegations, examine the treatment by NZDF of reports of civilian casualties following the operation, and assess the conduct of the NZDF forces, including compliance with the applicable rules of engagement and international humanitarian law and the authorisation – military and, if any, political – for Operation Burnham.

It will assess the status – civilian or insurgent – of the Afghan nationals in the area of the operation.

It will also assess the extent to which NZDF rules of engagement authorised “targeted killings” and whether this was clearly explained to those involved in approving the rules of engagement.

The accuracy of public statements made by NZDF and the accuracy of written briefings to ministers about civilian casualties will also fall within the inquiry’s scope.

The inquiry will also be asked to examine whether NZDF’s transport and/or transfer of suspected insurgent Qari Miraj in 2011 to the Afghanistan National Directorate of Security in Kabul was proper given, amongst other matters, the June 2010 decision of the High Court of England and Wales in R (on the application of Evans) v Secretary of State for Defence.

The inquiry, in common with all inquiries under the Inquiries Act, has no power to determine the civil, criminal, or disciplinary liability of any person. However it may, if justified, make findings of fault and recommend further steps be taken to determine liability.

Inquiry_into_Operation_Burnham__Terms_of_Reference.pdf

Media_Q_and_A_Operation_Burnham.pdf

Trade too important to be decided by public opinion?

Consultation with the public has become more important in a modern democracy such as we have in New Zealand, but a representative democracy gives the ultimate responsibility for decisions to MPs, especially Ministers. Apart from constitutional issues that is generally best.

Public opinion, and especially opinion that dominates PR and social media, may not always be right – public opinion can be formed  formed and  fought for with superficial and often distorted knowledge and information.

And popular opinion may not always support the interests of the greater good.

There can be a difference between popular opinion and populist opinion. Ongoing public pressure has resulted in an escalating prison population, but this appears to be a very costly failure.

Ordinary people may not have the depth of knowledge to understand some issues properly. Like trade.

Dominion editorial: Tinker with trade at your peril

Since Labour came to power, Trade Minister David Parker has made subtle, yet significant, changes to the way the Government communicates about trade to the public.

Rather than simply talk up the benefits of selling goods and services overseas, Parker has validated concerns by making changes, in the name of sovereignty, pledging to ban foreigners from buying residential property.

He has also offered a more sympathetic ear, even as he points out opponents are often blaming trade, when their real concern is something else, such as the inevitable change brought on by new technology.

This approach appears to have taken the heat out of the debate, allowing Parker to sign the CPTPP with little fuss from the public, something National could never have dreamed of achieving.

Parker may well have helped take the heat out of the debate, but I think there is more to the dramatic reduction in TPP opposition – Labour and the Greens were prominently involved in the TPP protests in 2016, which were as much anti-National government as anti-TPP, an obvious political ploy.

Now that Labour leads the government they obviously wouldn’t get involved in stoking protests against themselves, and the Green  opposition has been muted apart from some token protest, in part so as not to appear to be divisive of the government they are a part of.

‘Popular opinion’ is often manipulated by minority political parties for political purposes.

The benefits of trade are not necessarily understood by everyone, partly because they are simply taken for granted.

That does not mean that the direction of New Zealand’s trade policy should change in any material way.

Every year New Zealand sells tens of billions of dollars worth of goods and services around the world, boosting our material standards of living.

Hundreds of thousands of jobs are directly linked to international trade, but even that measure does not capture its significance.

Whether or not any particular New Zealander works in a trade-related industry, this trade is, to a large extent, what gives the dollars in their pockets meaning and value, especially when buying goods or services from overseas.

Parker appears keen to set stricter conditions for future trade deals, while maintaining an openly pro-trade stance.

An openly pro-trade stance may cause friction between Labour and the Greens, and also with Winston Peters and NZ First, especially now that Russian trade deal moves have been put on hold.

Provisions which would allow foreign investors to sue New Zealand overseas – provisions which are almost never used – will be out. Environmental and labour standard protection clauses may be required.

These changes are well-meaning and may be beneficial.

But what if the process becomes a debate about whether trade is beneficial?

Just because the new Labour Government has managed to take the heat out of the debate in recent months, it would be risky to assume this is a lasting peace.

Now that the Greens have a second leader again the peace may be threatened by a more left wing, more radical, less trade friendly Marama Davidson.

Overseas, the rise of Donald Trump and Britain’s decision to leave the European Union appears in no small way to be driven by anti-globalisation sentiment, exploited by populist politicians.

What if this sentiment was to catch on here?

It wouldn’t look unusual for Winston Peters to try to drive a populist anti-globalisation sentiment, but it would be could be conflicting for the Greens to oppose international corporations and non-green trade in a similar manner to Donald Trump.

Consultation has become an essential part of public process at all levels. The problem is that in some cases, the public may not deliver a well-reasoned response.

Business groups have admitted not enough has been done to prove the case for global trade to the public.

But anything resembling a public education campaign driven by corporate interests may backfire.

Parker needs to run a process which is sufficiently “comprehensive and inclusive”, without running the risk that it could end up damaging New Zealand’s economic interests.

Can Parker keep Peters and Davidson on side with this approach?

Trade may almost be said to be too important to be left to public opinion.

That’s unlikely to deter populist politicians, especially as we approach 2020 and the next election, and it’s unlikely to deter parties with significantly different ideas on trade to Labour and National.

One of the anti-TPP protest organisers was Barry Coates, who then became an MP for part of the last term, and was expected to remain an MP until the Green upheaval last campaign. He has still been working against the CPTPP.

Parker is one of the Government’s best performing ministers. But he could have a challenge promoting trade against public opinion and partner parties.

 

Greater protections under Bill of Rights

Cabinet today approved of greater protections under the New Zealand Bill of Rights:


Government to provide greater protection of rights under the NZ Bill of Rights Act 1990

Cabinet has approved, in principle, a move to amend the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 to provide a statutory power for the senior courts to make declarations of inconsistency under the Bill of Rights Act, and to require Parliament to respond.

Justice Minister Andrew Little and Attorney-General David Parker today welcomed the decision.

Andrew Little says, “Declarations of inconsistency can perform an important function by informing Parliament that the senior courts consider an Act of Parliament to be inconsistent with the fundamental human rights affirmed in the Bill of Rights Act.

“The Government supports the senior courts making declarations of inconsistency where there is a legislative power. As there is currently no explicit power in the Bill of Rights Act, amending the Act will allow for this.”

David Parker says: “Parliament occasionally passes laws inconsistent with the Bill Of Rights Act. Currently there is no established route for Parliament to revisit the issue.

“The change proposed is to amend the Act to confer an express power for the courts to make a declaration of inconsistency. That would trigger reconsideration of the issue by Parliament.”

The Courts would not be able to strike down statutory law and Parliament would retain its sovereignty. After reconsideration Parliament could amend, repeal or stick with the law as originally passed.

The Government will carry out further work to enable the change proposed, while protecting Parliament’s sovereignty.

Background information

New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990

The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 is one of the most important pieces of legislation in New Zealand for the promotion and protection of human rights. It sets out to affirm, protect and promote human rights and fundamental freedoms in New Zealand. It also affirms New Zealand’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

What is a Declaration of Inconsistency?

A declaration of inconsistency is a formal statement, granted by a court as a remedy, that legislation is inconsistent with fundamental human rights protected by the Bill of Rights Act. The declaration informs the public and Parliament that in the court’s view, an Act is inconsistent with fundamental human rights. A declaration of inconsistency does not affect the validity of the Act or anything done lawfully under that Act. Currently, there is no explicit power in the Bill of Rights Act to issue declarations of inconsistency.

The matter of declarations of inconsistency has also been the subject of recent court proceedings. In 2015, in Taylor v Attorney-General, the High Court issued a declaration of inconsistency for the first time. This declaration was that a provision of the Electoral Act 1993 disqualifying all sentenced prisoners from registering to vote is inconsistent with voting rights affirmed by the Bill of Rights Act. The matter of whether the senior courts can issue such a declaration has reached the Supreme Court, which will hear an appeal in March 2018.

Previous consideration of Declarations of Inconsistency

In 2011, the Constitutional Advisory Panel was appointed to listen to and record New Zealander’s views on constitutional issues. As part of its consultation with the public, it considered amendments to the Bill of Rights Act. Its recommendations, released in 2013, included that the Government explore options for improving the effectiveness of the Bill of Rights Act such as giving the judiciary powers to assess legislation for consistency with the Bill of Rights Act.

Parker pushing for more trade with better social equity

One of the Government’s most notable achievements so far has been helping the eleven country Trans-Pacific Partnership (now CPTPP) to a final agreement, despite not being on Labour’s Taking action in our first 100 days list (that isn’t surprising because Labour had made a big deal and political capital by opposing it, albeit on limited grounds). It is expected that the final agreement will be signed in Chile on 8 March.

The quiet achiever here has been Minister of Trade David Parker, but credit also has to go to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for giving Parker the trade portfolio, and for the Labour dominated caucus for presumably supporting Parker’s trade agreement aims.

Parker’s full job description is Minister for Economic Development, Environment, and Trade and Export Growth, as well as Attorney General and Associate Minister of Finance.

Parker is also busy working on other improvements to trade access for New Zealand.

Newshub: Need to build support for free trade seen

New Zealand’s Minister for Trade and Export Growth David Parker is pushing a message of inclusiveness in a bid to build public support for freer trade after meeting APEC business leaders.

The APEC Business Advisory Council is holding its first meeting of the year in Auckland, which concludes on Sunday.

The council is the voice of business in APEC. In their annual report to APEC leaders, released Sunday, members called on leaders to show leadership on further liberalisation of trade in goods and services as well as investment flows.

When Mr Parker engaged with the APEC business leaders on Friday, he underscored the need for business to help re-build public consensus for trade, which has eroded around the world.

Ironically public consensus for trade had looked to be somewhat eroded when there were large protests against the TPP in 2016, and Labour, NZ First and the Greens were all in support of the opposition (Labour MPs took part in protests).

Mr Parker called for emphasis on labour, small business, women and the environment.

Mr Parker said many people had felt left out by globalisation and were worried about a concentration in wealth.

These concerned had to be recognised and addressed, he said.

While Parker is pushing for further liberalisation of trade he is adding wider social considerations. This is one of the aims of the Ardern government. They are pragmatically working on trade agreements, but trying to take on more of a social conscience.

This likely to be fine with the many, but a few will remain opposed to more free trade and globalisation.

The current Government’s approach is an evolution of the trade and social direction of the past Clark and Key/English governments.

Parker is Labour’s most experienced minister, and so far looks to be their star performer.

His approach may dismay some on the hard left, but already with a left-wing government they have nowhere else to go. The Greens may continue to resist trade agreements, but Labour is very close to National on trade so should be able to progress on trade matters with a super majority.

Rather than throwing out ‘neo-liberalism’ and starting fresh as some left wing activists want, something untested and very risky (economically and socially), Parker and the Labour government are taking a safe and sensible approach, working on improving on the trade, financial and social direction New Zealand has been going in.

Parker and Peters split on water tax

The Minister of Trade and the Minister of Foreign Affairs are split over whether a tax on exported water can be imposed without breaching trade agreements.

NZH:  Winston Peters and David Parker at odds over whether export tax breaches trade deals

Foreign Minister Winston Peters and Trade Minister David Parker appear at odds over the legal position of the planned royalty on water exports.

Peters plans to ignore the advice of top officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and will introduce the royalty which was promised in the Labour-New Zealand First coalition agreement.

He said the view of Mfat deputy secretary and chief TPP negotiator that it breaches New Zealand’s trade deals was “an opinion.”

“We are a sovereign nation and you are seeing a restoration of our sovereignty.”

Peters said it was not a foreign policy matter: “It is to do with our domestic economy and who runs our economy and who has propriety over our resources.”

Vangelis Vitalis, Foreign Affairs deputy secretary for the trade and economic group, said today that such payments would breach existing trade agreement.

But Parker backed Vitalis. He told reporters export taxes were prohibited by all of New Zealand’s trade agreements “so we have got to find a remedy that is consistent with those obligations.”

He said he had always known that discriminatory measures that impose tax only on exports would be in breach of virtually every trade agreement we’ve got.”

Labour had campaigned on a non-distortionary price on water including on exports.

“There is more than one way for us to meet our ambition. If we were to have a distortionary tax on the export of water, that would breach our trade agreements.”

The Labour-NZ First coalition agreement simply said:

Introduce royalty on exports of bottled water.

Some interesting differences here, between an election promise and coalition agreement and what is actually allowed under existing international agreements – making promises without doing basic checks first – and also between Parker and Peters.

NZ-Aus ISDS clause already existed

An interesting point from Politik on a an implied improvement in the CPTPP agreement, regarding Investor State provisions with Australia.

Parker’s statement on Sunday said: “It (the CPTPP) preserves New Zealand’s right to regulate in the public interest.

“We have also retained the reciprocal agreement with Australia, which is the source of 80 per cent of our overseas investment from this new grouping, that ISDS clauses will not apply between our countries.

“We continue to seek similar agreements with the other countries in this new Agreement.”

Strictly speaking, Parker is correct. By using the word “retained,” he acknowledges that the agreement not to use the ISDS clauses has been in existence for some time.

That is confirmed in a little-noticed section in the TPP National Interest Analysis produced by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade in January last year which said: “Consistent with ANZCERTA and the Australia-ASEAN-New Zealand FTA, TPP’s ISDS provisions would not apply between New Zealand and Australia. “

Notice of this was posted as an “associated document” to the TPP on the MFAT website in late 2015.

But speaking in Sydney on November 5, after her meeting with Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern appeared to suggest that the pair had exchanged letters agreeing not to invoke ISDS procedures against each other.

“We discussed a signed letter on the ISDS clauses which we see as being mutually beneficial,” she said.

“That acknowledges our positions on ISDS – at least between each other.”

The exchange of letters (if it was new) was not necessary; MFAT had already established that the ISDS clauses did not apply to Australian investment in New Zealand.

http://politik.co.nz/en/content/foreignaffairs/1231

So despite what was implied by Ardern we have never had an ISDS claim in the past, and the TPP already had an exclusion to ISDS applying between Australia and New Zealand, which amounts to 80% of our overseas investment.

Odd that when in government National hadn’t done more to point this out.

ISDS concerns seem to be much ado about bugger all.

 

TPP now CPTPP, core elements agreed on

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is back on, and has been renamed the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). Who the hell thought of that name? But it’s just a long winded name.

RNZ: TPP deal revived once more, 20 provisions suspended

The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal remains on track to be agreed by the eleven nations involved.

It has been a tumultuous couple of days for ministers and trade negotiators at Da Nang in Vietnam: 24 hours ago, the deal looked close to collapse, after Canada’s representatives failed to show for a meeting.

A key concern from Canada was reported to be that Malaysia and Vietnam wanted to opt out of requirements for fair workplace laws, including the elimination of child and forced labour.

Speaking to reporters late last night, the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said there was “still more important work to be done to ensure we reach the best deal for Canada and Canadian people”.

Everyone wants the best deal for their own countries and people, but they will only reach agreement by compromising.

But more high-pressure talks have brought agreement – in principle – on the “core elements” of a deal.

The officials did it by suspending 20 provisions of the original TPP, some of which related to protecting labour rights and the environment, although most dealt with intellectual property.

Stuff: Renamed TPP ‘a damned sight better’, could be in place in a few months

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made it clear on Saturday that concessions won, particularly on controversial investor-state disputes settlement clauses, had cleared the way for New Zealand to sign.

“This is not a perfect agreement but it is a damned sight better than what we had when we started,’ she told reporters after the leaders’ retreat at the Apec summit in Da Nang, Vietnam.

“It is not perfect, no free trade agreement is. But it’s a lot better than where we were three weeks ago.”

That will please some  but others will never be happy with any trade agreement.

Trade ministers, including New Zealand’s David Parker, issued a statement acknowledging agreement on the core elements of the CPTPP.

They also released a list of “suspended issues”, which were essentially those that had been important to the US.

They can now only be written back into the deal by negotiation – and only by consensus of all the parties – if the US seeks to rejoin, perhaps in the post-President Donald Trump era.

That’s at least three years off. There’s obviously no need for US specific clauses.

That, in theory, means New Zealand can prevent the suspended changes to the ISDS regime from re-entering the agreement.

“If America comes in, it’s not an automatic lifting of those suspended provision … we worked hard to have lifted,” Ardern said.

The agreement would now be taken back to a select committee for the public and Parliament to assess it.

It will be interesting to see how much it is protested this time.

Ardern said New Zealand negotiators had worked hard on the ISDS clauses, which allow corporations to take legal action against host countries in special tribunals.

They have been narrowed in three areas:

* First, they no longer apply to investor screening, so decisions made under the Overseas Investment Act regime, administered by the Overseas Investment office, could not be challenged. Ardern said that was perhaps the most important change.
* Second, anyone who takes up a contract with the government would no longer be able to sue through ISDS provisions but must instead use domestic procedures.
* The third change related to financial services.

Also, a side letter with Australia has ruled out the use of ISDS provisions between the two countries, meaning ISDS does not apply to 80 per cent of foreign direct investment from TPP nations.

A “handful” of other countries have agreed in principle to ISDS side letters. but Ardern said she could not disclose them now.

Ardern said the ISDS provisions in the CPTPP were now similar to previous trade agreements New Zealand has signed, such as with China and Malaysia.

New Zealand had wanted to go further, but she regarded the progress over just a few weeks since she came to office as “a good outcome”.

But New Zealand had now put a line in the sand.

“We will not sign up to future agreements that include those clauses.”

Other suspensions in the new CPTPP included to copyright provisions. The US had achieved a “life plus 70 years” rule, but that would now drop back to the current “life plus 50 years”. That was worth $50 million to $55m a year to New Zealand.

Also, disclosure and administratives rules imposed on drug buying agency Pharmac would now be suspended, which would have cost $5.5m up-front and $2.5m a year.

The remaining hurdles to all 11 CPTPP nations are four outstanding issues, on which negotiation was still required.

They included how long Vietnam had to meet certain labour standards, and the time when Brunei and Malaysia will make changes to restrictions in their oil and gas industries.

The fourth issue applies to Canada, which is arguing for a “culture” carve out – essentially so it can offer bigger subsidies for French-language programming. New Zealand was a supporter of Canada on that issue.

So the CPTPP could take a while yet but looks back on track.

A fresh approach to negotiations with new leadership may have been a good thing for New Zealand.