US could win from TPP despite withdrawal

Trade Minister Todd McClay says some countries like the US may benefit from the TPP despite not being partners. Photo: Lynn Grieveson.

United States companies could still win big from the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal despite the country’s decision to withdraw from talks, our government has confirmed.

Prime Minister Bill English is currently in Japan to build on attempts to revive the controversial 12-nation free trade deal, after the US pulled out in January.

Japan and New Zealand reportedly support keeping the original deal as negotiated over several years, in part to make it easier for the US to rejoin if it has a change of heart.

However, sceptics have questioned whether developing countries like Malaysia and Vietnam would be willing to accept far tougher standards without the benefits of access to the world’s largest economy.

While the US failed in a bid to extend the patents for biologic medicines, New Zealand - along with other countries - agreed to provide more information about its national drug purchasing as a partial concession.

Auckland University law professor and anti-TPP critic Jane Kelsey said it was unbelievable that the countries planned to retain the text of the original TPP deal, “with all the toxic rules the US insisted on”.

“Why would the US want to rejoin if its corporations have already got the benefits of the rules without paying anything for them?”

Asked about the topic, English largely deferred to his Trade Minister Todd McClay, but said there was “a collective interest” in structuring a TPP11 deal so the US could sign up in future.

“Well look, in the long run of course we’d like to see America part of it, but there are benefits we’d get anyway, but not just New Zealand - everyone in TPP will get some benefits if we can make this deal move along, and that’s why we’ve taken probably the most proactive stance of any of the TPP countries.”

McClay conceded there would be some changes as a result of the original TPP deal which would be open to all countries to benefit from, such as with Pharmac.

However, he sought to downplay their significance, saying the Government had already made a commitment that the availability and cost of medicines would not change significantly for Kiwis as a result.

“I actually think the majority of the changes that many would have to make were already in place in New Zealand, the cost to Pharmac was quite small.

“Any country in the world can have that information and all we’re saying is it will be a little more freely available - it wasn’t a significant change.”

McClay said there would be other cases around the world where countries benefited from talks they originally weren’t involved in.

However, he said the topic of possible changes to the original text was likely to come up when TPP ministers met in Vietnam this weekend for the latest round of talks.

“There will be questions about whether or not the agreement as it was negotiated for the 12 remains in place, or whether some would want some changes, so we’ll need to keep talking to our partners before we reach a decision.”