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.

More from McClay on China trade issue

Trade Minister Todd McClay has now revealed that concerns about possible trade reprisals from China first came to his notice in May, two months before the Government denied any issue.

Stuff: Todd McClay confirms China-NZ talks since May over trade reprisal fears

The New Zealand and Chinese governments were in talks as early as May over fears of trade reprisals, Trade Minister Todd McClay has revealed.

McClay said the “engagement” in late May – long before Zespri passed on a warning from a Chinese commerce official in early July – were at “various levels of Government”.

The July warnings made to Zespri, Fonterra and potentially other primary exporters indicated exports would be slowed down by the imposition of so-called non-tariff barriers.

McClay on Monday told Stuff there were limits to what he could say “given the legislative constraints around the reporting of competition complaints that are not yet under investigation”.

But he said the concerns in May “in broad terms … related to both governments explaining their positions; clarifying legislative and other requirements around trade remedy issues; or seeking assurances in the event of suggestions or rumours of possible trade retaliation”.

He said it was not until July 8 – at least six weeks later – that he was briefed by the New Zealand Embassy in Shanghai on “an industry specific threat”.

When Stuff first broke news of the July 8 threat, passed on by Zespri, it was dismissed by exporters and the Government as an unsubstantiated rumour.

McClay had tried to brush off the issue but later apologised to the Prime Minister.

He also apologised to Prime Minister John Key who publicly reprimanded McClay for not giving broad enough answers and for “dancing on the head of a pin” with what he had said, leaving Key himself to provide false answers to reporters.

Key said McClay had left the impression that the only communication was between Zespri and a non-government organisation “and that’s not true”.

Trade and diplomacy has to be handled carefully in public but McClay too careful, or careless.

Last week Zespri said Chinese authorities had discovered on June 6 a fungus or rot in two containers of its kiwifruit. They had waited until early August to issue a “risk notification” that would have the effect of slowing down the clearance of kiwifruit at the border.

In response Zespri halted shipments to China for a week while it put in place “protocols” to address the issue. Meanwhile it diverted a million trays of fruit to other markets.

While the Chinese reaction matched the reported threat, officials and ministers have described it as a technical issue – reiterated by Key on Monday – and have denied any link to Chinese retaliation saying the timing was coincidental and an issue could have blown up at any time.

Are import issues common? Or is this an out of the ordinary ‘coincidence’?

It’s kinda ironic that one of our big exports to China are derivative varieties of what were known as Chinese gooseberries.

McClay reprimanded over Chinese trade issues

The Trade Minister Todd McClay has been publicly reprimanded by John Key for not being open and honest to Key or to the public after a story broke about alleged Chinese threats over trade.

Stuff: McClay rebuked by PM after failing to reveal wider fears of China retribution

After days downplaying Stuff reports, McClay on Monday revealed officials have been “for months” examining reports that China could retaliate if an investigation into steel dumping in New Zealand went ahead.

He also apologised to Key for not seeking more detail on the issue, but he stopped short of offering his resignation.

Key said McClay’s answers to media at a joint press conference in Indonesia, after Stuff broke the story, left the impression “that the only correspondence, the only discussion, had been between Zespri and a non-Government organisation and that’s not true”.

It’s not uncommon for Ministers to avoid telling the public everything about an issue, sometimes to try and protect themselves, sometimes to protect others from revelations that could be embarrassing.

But to not be up front with the Prime Minister can create serious problems for the Government, as it did in this case due to Key giving responses to media that turned out to be inaccurate.

There had been discussions and correspondence with others.

“He should have made both the media and me aware of that.”

“I think he took a very literal interpretation of the question that was asked of him. While that …may have been technically correct the point I was making to him is that’s giving a very specific and, I think, ‘dancing on the head of a pin’-type of answer to what was really a broader question. “

Key says that McClay has apologised to him but has not offered his resignation. McClay should be on notice not to stuff up like this again.

Labour leader Andrew Little called for Key to sack McClay. 

“A Minister who does not appreciate the seriousness of possible retaliatory action by our biggest trading partner against some of our biggest export industries simply should not be in the job.”

I have no idea whether it warrants the sacking of McClay, but Opposition calls for sackings tend to be not infrequent and often overplayed. In any case McClay may have appreciated the seriousness of the issue with China, but not the importance of properly informing the PM.

McClay was hamstrung in what he could say about a possible complaint about steel dumping because under WTO rules the Government could not confirm that until a formal investigation was launched.

How much to tell the PM is an ongoing judgement call by ministers, in this case poorly judged by McClay, but if Ministers resigned or were sacked over every stuff up there would be a drastic shortage of experience in Cabinet.

Key still played down the seriousness of the trade threats.

Key continued to describe the fears of China retaliating as “unsubstantiated rumours”.

“I think it still does fit in that category.”

There had been “engagement” like the one between an NGO and Zespri.

“What has happened is where there have been questions raised about whether, if there was an action taken, there would be retaliatory action the minister and the ministry have sought assurances that wouldn’t take place,” Key said.

“And to the best of our knowledge they have received those assurances.”

There have been claims ranging from serious trade threats from China to the story being an over-egged political hit job in New Zealand.

If the latter then jeopardising trade relations with China for political purposes deserves some attention, but don’t expect openness with the public or resignations for stuff ups in that respect.