Andrew Little on the TPPA – transcript

Andrew Little spoke publicly for the first time yesterday since the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement was made, on Q & A.

Little said that a Labour Government would pass legislation and “if it happens to conflict with obligations in the TPP we will have that fight”.

So New Zealand under Labour couldn’t be trusted to honour trade agreements.

And Little claimed “our party is absolutely united on it.”

These are Labour’s stated bottom lines on the TPPA.

“Labour will not support the TPP if it undermines New Zealand’s sovereignty. This means:
•    Pharmac must be protected
•    Corporations cannot successfully sue the Government for regulating in the public interest
•    New Zealand maintains the right to restrict sales of farm land and housing to non-resident foreigner buyers
•    The Treaty of Waitangi must be upheld
•    Meaningful gains are made for our farmers in tariff reductions and market acces

Has Tim Groser ticked all the boxes you need?

Well as he rightly said there’s still a heap of detail to understand and to know, and we won’t know that until we see the final text of the agreement. Looking at the information that the Government released on Friday night about the agreement or where it is at the moment, what you realise is that there’s going to be a lot of annexes to it, a lot of exceptions, a lot of exclusions, so this is not just one single agreement applying to twelve countries equally.

So until we see all that we don’t know the detail.

Having said that we know there are issues of concern, so one of our bottom lines was the right of a future Government to restrict land sales to non-resident foreigners, and that’s not in, it’s gone. So there is that in there, there’s…

“You’re opposed then by that nature, point number one on your check list hasn’t been crossed off so you can’t support this can you?

Not at the moment we can’t, and we want to know what the other detail is.

But Labour had already said that unless their five bottom lines are satisfied, and this is one of them, they won’t support the TPPA. I don’t know why Little said “not at the moment” when it either satisfies their bottom line or it doesn’t.

“But if that restriction on foreign buyers isn’t going in there, and it’s not going in there, then that’s it, case closed.”

Well, from what we know at the moment yeah you wouldn’t support it.

So that means Little and Labour wouldn’t support it.

And equally on Pharmac. You know, we haven’t had to extend they data exclusivity and what have you on it, but there’s a new process now, where before the Government negotiates with a generic supplier they have to go to the original pharmaceutical company that’s produced the medicine, that as we know in other countries has led to a process where they immediately launched litigation, and can slow the whole process down. So there will be added cost for Pharmac and pharmaceuticals.

There will be added cost if there is litigation. That’s speculation, but Little seems to be claiming Labour’s Pharmac bottom line isn’t met either.

LittleOnTPPA

“What about meaningful gains on dairy, is a hundred million dollars in tariff reductions, is that meaningful gains in Labours book?

That’s after fifteen years or depending on which country you’re talking to it’s between ten and fifteen years, so my view is no meaningful gain in dairy at all.

I think the reality is there’s been no significant movement either in the US or Canada and certainly Japan on dairy, so the future for dairy if we want to continue to have good volumes of exports in dairy, we’re going to be going outside the TPP to do that.

So you’re right, another bottom line that hasn’t been met from what we know of the agreement at the moment.

“So you’re opposed to the TPP?”

Well we’re certainly opposed to what we see at the moment.

But as I say, we’ve taken I think a very reasonable very measured approach, we want to see what the final agreement is, there is a lot of complexity to it.

But those things were bottom lines.

So it appears to be clear that Little is leaning heavily towards opposing the TPPA. He’s not avoiding discussing Labour’s bottom lines, he is volunteering examples of bottom lines not being met.

“So will you, in terms of that foreign buyers issue then, Grant Robertson suggested you may flout those restrictions…”

Yep.

“…and still impose a ban, you’d do that?”

Yes we will.

So Little clearly agrees with Robertson’s and Jacinda Ardern’s comments that they would ignore aspects of the agreement “and cop the consequences”.

It comes down to this in the end. The fundamental moral obligation of every Government is to act in the best interests of it’s citizens…

“And that’s going to come potentially at a pretty significant financial cost if it was challenged in the courts wouldn’t it?”

Well lets see what happens, because the reality is that other parties to the TPP already have that right, Australia’s had it preserved, Malaysia, Vietnam, they already have it now, so what sort of case is there that says we’re going to hold on to our right to make sure that we can prevent non-resident foreigners buying our land…

…we will legislate for it and we will have a fight for the rest of the TPP if we have to have that.

So Little’s Labour would deliberately flout the TPP Agreement.

There is a challenge there of course, will they really come after us and let’s see what happens, but we will do what’s right for New Zealand citizens. That’s our moral duty to do that.

Several things here.

One is the inconsistency of saying that the Pharma bottom line isn’t met based on a speculation that there would be litigation, but here saying Labour would deliberately breach the agreement, gambling that potentially expensive court action might not be taken against New Zealand.

Another is excusing breaching an international agreement as “moral duty”.

Another is presuming that this riding roughshod over international agreements is “what’s right for New Zealand citizens”.

“This is a fundamental shift though for the Labour Party though isn’t it, to be even in this initial instant to be opposed to a free trade deal like this?”

But it’s not, this is the whole point, it’s not just about free trade, and you know so people will look on and say who’s interests are, you know what other interests are there here.

There are the interests of exporters, and some exporters will get some gains from this, but there’s a heap of other things that compromise the right of governments to do the right thing, or to act in their citizens best interests.

So we do have to look closely at that and say well no, our obligation is to do the right thing for new Zealanders, and we will do that.

But is opposing the TPPA doing the right thing for New Zealanders?

Is deliberately flouting a trade agreement doing the right thing for New Zealanders? There’s wider implications on that than doing something and hoping no country will take any action against it or decide to flout the agreement themselves in response.

If New Zealand makes trade agreements and then flouts them it could make future trade agreements much more difficult to get if New Zealand can’t be trusted to stand by the agreements.

“Will your party be united in it’s opposition to this, or will we see the likes of Phil Goff cross the floor and vote for this deal?” (Phil Goff as Clark’s Labour Government’s Trade Minister did a lot of work towards getting the TPPA under way).

No, our caucus has had a good discussion about it, that’s how we got to our bottom lines, and now we’ll look at the information that’s come out since the settlement has been done, but as a party we will have a close look at the final deal once we see that text which is three weeks or another month away.

But our party is absolutely united on it.

That’s the way we process things through Caucus.

The Labour Caucus agreed to the bottom lines.

But Little (and Trade spokesperson David Parker) have been out of action for the last week so the Caucus presumably hasn’t discussed Labour’s reaction.

Grant Robertson and Jacinda Ardern suggested a Labour position on the TPPA, and now Little has come out and backed that stance up, and has clearly said on what is known Labour couldn’t support the TPPA and would flout it with conflicting legislation.

I would be very surprised if “our party is absolutely united on it” now. There have already beem rumblings that emerged in a Matthew Hooton column that referred to ‘unhappy “insiders” – in other words, it looks like the Caucus has been leaking.

The reality is we’re dealing with eleven other countries and you’re dealing with the US. The US’s interest in all of this is not actually about free trade, it’s about control.

NZ-US relations could take a dive if Labour get back into Government.

We’ve got to deal with what we’ve got or what will come to us when we see the text.

What I am saying is regardless of that there are some things in it that are problematic now, and we will discharge our moral duty as a future Government, and we will legislate in the best interests of New Zealanders.

If it happens to conflict with obligations in the TPP we will have that fight.

I somehow doubt whether picking a fight with the world of trading nations seems in New Zealander’s best interests.

“Helen Clark said we couldn’t miss out, we had to be in on the action, I mean do you disagree with her?”

Well she said what she said, I mean she’s an Internationalist by nature, that’s a good thing, but I’ve gone on the basis, and  Labour has gone on the basis of the information that we have and what we know, and we’re yet to see the final detail, in the end I’m a New Zealand politician. My obligation is to make judgements in the best interests of what I think are New Zealand’s and New Zealander’s interests…

So that is Little’s new message, he’s repeated it several times.

Probably not coincidentally see Anat Shenker-Osorio on the creation of left metaphors:

Communications Anat Shenker-Osorio has some simple messages for Labour in its quest for Government.  The left’s strongest advantage is its care for people rather than the economy and the message that will resonate is a positive one emphasising the care of people and the environment.

“Was it helpful that she (Clark) commented? Should she have?”

Well what she’s done she’s done.

In the end I’ve got to make judgement calls about what in my view and what Labour’s view is in the best interests of New Zealanders…

“Are we going to see over the following months Labour try and wriggle it’s way through this, get to a position where it can say yeah, we’re on board as well, you know, you just want to voice some opposition now but in the end you’re going to fall into line on this?”

We’ve taken a pretty principled view, and one of those principles is we are a supporter of free trade, but we don’t like the erosions of sovereignty that this agreement entails. We’ve taken a principled view.

What sort of principle is flouting a trade agreement involving eleven other countries?

In the end we don’t get to agree on this. We don’t get to have a vote in Parliament. What we need to talk about is what we will do once the national party has signed this agreement, because that’s where they’re at right now.

Would Labour deliberately flout the Free Trade Agreement the Clark Government made with China if they want to legislate on non-resident foreign ownership? Australia?

Little can repeat ‘moral obligation’ and ‘best interests of New Zealanders’ as often as he likes, but if opposing and sabotaging the TPPA are seen as not in New Zealander’s interests then voters may punish Labour.

But I suspect that some of the Labour caucus will have a problem with this stance by Little. That could cause Labour more immediate problems.

Video of Andrew Little interview with Michael Parkin: TPP done deal – Labour responds (8:32)