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Fran O'Sullivan: TPP would be a notch on Labour's trade belt

Jacinda Ardern and David Parker have singled out the China bilateral deal as proof positive that Labour has cast-iron credentials when it comes to nailing free trade agreements.

The jury is out on whether they will add the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to Labour's impressive track record in this sphere when they head up to the Apec meetings in Vietnam next week.

But despite the political rhetoric, no one should be in any doubt that Ardern and Parker do want to add TPP to the notches on Labour's trade belt - as long as the Government can retain the sovereign right to clamp down on existing house sales to foreigners.

International Dispute Settlements procedures, which Labour also wants to have axed from the final TPP-11 agreement, will not be a deal-breaker.

Neither the Prime Minister nor her Trade Minister have made much play of the fact that it was their predecessors in the fifth Labour Government - Helen Clark and Phil Goff - who opened the door to this proposed Asia-Pacific mega deal in the first place.

Goff joined former Republican Trade Representative Susan Schwab in New York in early 2008 together with ministers from Brunei, Chile, and Singapore to announce the launch of negotiations for what ultimately evolved into TPP.

Said Schwab: "The United States is pleased to stand with this group of like-minded countries, whose vision for trade liberalisation and Trans-Pacific economic integration we share.

"We are particularly interested in this high-standard agreement potentially serving as a vehicle for advancing trade and investment liberalisation and integration across the Trans-Pacific region and perhaps beyond."

The move was celebrated by Clark and Goff. But the party which also displayed sufficient political pragmatism in Government to, for instance, recognise China as a "market economy" (a step that was frowned on by the US and Australia) as a precursor to moving to full negotiations on the bilateral trade agreement between New Zealand and China, is just as capable now of balancing domestic priorities with the wider agenda of the bigger players.

Ardern and Parker will have calculated that their proposed workaround to ensure foreigners cannot buy existing residential housing will pass muster with bigger trading partners who signed the TPP agreement in Auckland in February 2016. The devil, as it always is, is in the detail.

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