New Zealand, Australia Leaders Press for TPP to Move Forward

23 February 2017

The future of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement was high on the agenda last week as Australian Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull and New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English met in Queenstown, New Zealand, for discussions on trade and other subjects.

The two Oceanic nations are both signatories to the TPP, a sweeping trade deal that was concluded in 2015 and signed in early 2016.

While the trade agreement negotiations were conducted by 12 countries, the United States has since withdrawn its participation from the accord under the new administration of President Donald Trump, prompting questions over what this means for the deal’s future. (See Bridges Weekly, 26 January 2017)

Turnbull, English warn against protectionism

In an announcement on 13 February previewing the bilateral meeting, the Australian leader affirmed that neighbouring New Zealand has been the source of “a very successful and collaborative relationship built on shared history and values that we will continue to strengthen to the benefit of both our countries.”

Following their 17 February discussions, the two leaders affirmed in a joint statement the value of TPP as “a key promoter of regional economic integration and a driver of economic growth, competition, innovation, and productivity.”

Speaking to reporters at a joint press conference, English and Turnbull emphasised their shared commitment to free trade, with the former highlighting the importance of trade liberalisation for small nations like New Zealand.

“New Zealanders are very aware we won’t get rich by selling to ourselves,” said English, adding that he and his Australian counterpart are eyeing regional trade liberalisation and other trade initiatives as a source of economic growth and job creation.

“We’re focused on finding ways to take the TPP forward now that the United States has withdrawn. We’ve agreed it’s important to reach out to our TPP partners to continue to work to secure the significant economic and strategic benefits the TPP would deliver,” he added.

Turnbull emphasised Australia’s commitment to free trade as a matter of national interest, reiterating his opposition to what some fear may be a growing international trend toward protectionism.

“Protectionism leads to poverty. We have seen that film before. We saw it at the time, nearly 90 odd years ago, in the Great Depression. It was protectionism – because of the concerns created by the Depression – countries started putting up trade barriers. It only made it worse. So we are pursuing our rational national self-interest in promoting trade,” said Turnbull.

Some commentators have argued that in order for the TPP to go forward successfully, the deal would need another trade giant, such as China, to fill the void left by the US’ withdrawal. Though English expressed regret for the US decision to withdraw, the New Zealand leader did not announce any immediate efforts beyond reaching out to and collaborating with the remaining TPP signatories to forge a path forward.

The two prime ministers both suggested that the upcoming meetings over the next few months between the 11 TPP signatories will be critical, particularly in terms of capturing the gains made through negotiations over the past several years.

All TPP signatories, including the US, along with non-TPP countries South Korea and China, have reportedly been invited to a mid-March summit in the Chilean coastal city of Viña del Mar. The final list of participants has not yet been confirmed publicly.

“Australia's certainly very keen to see us hold onto those gains from the TPP, but to do that requires us to form a new agreement with however many countries it might be,” Australian Trade Minister Steven Ciobo explained in an CNBC interview earlier this week.

The Australia trade minister already reported having conversations with officials from Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, and Singapore.

In an interview with Newstalk ZB, English suggested that Singapore has been among those expressing possible interest in moving the TPP forward, while noting “we’ll see where it goes from there, but it’s not going to be that easy.”

Along with future priorities in the areas of regional and international trade, English and Turnbull also discussed collaborative efforts in a number of fields, including innovation and science, Trans-Tasman economic integration, people and social policy, security and defence cooperation, cyber security, and regional and international cooperation.

ICTSD reporting: “NZ and Australia to work together to salvage TPP-English,” RADIO NEW ZEALAND, 17 February 2017; “Bill English: TPP still a goer for NZ, Aus,” NEWSTALK ZB, 20 February 2017; “TPP 11 to move forward?” CNBC, STREET SIGNS ASIA, 19 February 2017.

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