Last-minute negotiations over the fate of the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal are going “down to the wire”, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says.
Trade Minister David Parker was talking with ministers from the 10 other TPP countries through the night, in the hope that leaders could sign off on a deal on Friday evening (NZT) at the Apec summit.
The polarising free trade deal has been years in the making, reduced to a TPP-11 after the withdrawal of the United States earlier this year.
With an initially reluctant Japan reviving the deal, there was hope a substantive agreement could be reached at Apec - but that now seems up in the air.
Speaking to media from Da Nang after arriving late on Thursday night, Ardern said it was still unclear what the outcome of talks would be.
“It is down to the wire, I don’t want to predict what way it will go. There are a number of issues still on the table, not all of them are ours.”
New Zealand’s main concern is with the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clauses, which allow investors to sue countries outside their own courts over government regulations.
Labour, New Zealand First and the Greens raised concerns with the ISDS clauses while in opposition, and Ardern said the Government was continuing to push for changes to the investment rules.
“It is fair to say that has been tough going and continues to be...we came in late, it has not been easy, but that doesn’t mean we’re giving up.”
She was planning to hold bilateral meetings with leaders from Vietnam, Japan, Malaysia, and Singapore - all TPP countries - as part of an effort to “prioritise those who are around the negotiating table”.
Countries pushing for change
Ardern acknowledged that other countries were seeking their own amendments; while she would not elaborate further, the Nikkei Asian Review has reported they include concerns over restrictions on state-owned enterprises and the rules for abolishing tariffs on clothing.
Japan has pushed for a swift outcome, fearful that any further delays could prove fatal.
Asked whether it was now or never for the TPP, Ardern said: “It’s definitely coming to a head. There are a number of countries that do want to see conclusion, it's hard to know whether or not you’d be able to maintain your ongoing negotiating position the longer it drags on.”
As Ardern was en route to Da Nang, National leader Bill English was prodding the Government to sign off on a deal, saying it had to “pull out all the stops”.
“New Zealand has been at the forefront of both initiating the original TPP agreement and then pulling TPP-11 back together after the US withdrew.
“Officials and ministers have done the hard work, it’s time to finish the job.”
National has pledged to back any new TPP legislation, giving the Government the numbers it needs, although Ardern said it was too early to talk about whether coalition partners New Zealand First and the Greens would vote against a new deal.
On top of her bilateral meetings and the TPP leaders’ talks on Friday, Ardern will take part in an Apec CEO Summit panel on resource efficiency and sustainable growth.
On Saturday, Ardern will attend the Apec leaders' retreat, and said her contribution would focus on climate change and the summit's theme of inclusion.
"What you'll hear from New Zealand is no different from what we talk about domestically. I’m pleased that a regional level we’re talking about ways to make sure that all of our citizens benefit from economic prosperity, and I’d say that should be spreading to our trade agenda, what we can do to make sure that more businesses, more groupings are benefiting from that trade agenda."