Trade works

Trade Minister Tim Groser’s speech on the future of global trade highlights the benefits of trade:

·         First, consider the evidence for developed countries. Of the 14 main OECD multi-country econometric studies undertaken since 2000, all 14 have concluded that trade plays an independent and positive role in raising incomes.

·         Second, the evidence for developing countries leads to exactly the same conclusion. Case studies reviewing the experience of the 12 most rapidly growing emerging economies over the past 60 years concluded that harnessing the power of the global economy was a central feature common to all and that there was what they called ‘overwhelming’ evidence that trade played an essential role in raising incomes. Sorry guys, the North Koreans got it wrong. The South Koreans got it right.

The final concluding comment of these international experts is dripping with irony. Normally, international officials don’t do irony; it takes extreme frustration to drive experts to use ironic humour. Listen to their words:

“Despite all the debate about whether openness [on trade] contributes to growth, if the issue were truly one warranting nothing but agnosticism, we should expect at least some of the estimates to be negative…The uniformly positive estimates suggest that the relevant terms of the debate by now should be about the size of the positive influence of openness on growth….rather than about whether increased levels of trade relative to GDP have a positive effect on productivity and growth”. . .

I can of course understand vested interests who oppose trade agreements. If, say, your family owns an inefficient sugar processing plant in the wrong part of the United States and which survives only because of sugar subsidies and high protection, I get it. What you need is a long time to adjust to competition, sweetened by a good dose of adjustment assistance. You may even surprise yourself by what you can do to improve your competitive position over a long period of time – I could take you to dozens of examples in this country of industries and companies which vigorously contest our first liberalisation moves in the1980s, staring with the NZ wine industry which used to be deeply protectionist and for understandable reasons. But I am zeroing-in here on the anti-trade, anti-globalisation ideologues who are present around the globe. Even in Germany, a post-war bastion of the open trading system, they have become quite recently a growing element of the political debate on trade. This will complicate the TTIP negotiation.

Here in New Zealand we have anti-trade activists who are relentlessly consistent: they have never supported a single Trade Agreement and they never will. They are politically irrelevant to my political party. However, they get an enormous amount of airplay and are not politically irrelevant to other important elements in our democracy. For reasons I explained earlier, I believe broad bipartisan support for open trade strategies is vital to avoid your country being marginalised.

There is no point in asking them to explain how on earth New Zealand could have survived, let alone prospered, without CER, without the Uruguay Round, the China FTA, the network of FTAs that New Zealand has with ASEAN countries – they opposed even the Singapore/NZ FTA, the first building block of the DNA of TPP. To paraphrase a well-known quote of our Prime Minister, are we meant to earn our living just be selling to ourselves?

There is no point in asking them to explain this, because this is not an evidence-based fight. This is about ideology and the role of markets. On a purely personal note, and going back to my political past in the late 1960s and on which I will not elaborate, I understand exactly how and why these people think like this. I recall wistfully an old political doctrinal statement ‘The final battle will be between the socialists and the ex-socialists’.

If it were just these anti-trade activists, they could be safely ignored by everyone. But their modus operandi is to give currency to concerns about policies that middle New Zealand, which is anything but ideological, cares about – and then to exaggerate those concerns out of the park.

Happily, those concerns of middle New Zealand are widely shared starting with me, my colleagues in Cabinet and Caucus and the Kiwi voters who elected us. And as I survey the likely landing zone for these issues, I am extremely confident that our negotiators, who are world class, have done an excellent job. We shall be able to defend our position.

He counters some of the scaremongering from opponents of the TPP:

So, to put it bluntly, we are not going to sign up to poorly constructed ISDS provisions that ‘transfer control of the country’s sovereignty’ to foreign corporations. We are not going to sign up to agreements that undermine a central pillar of our Public Health system – the pharmaceutical purchasing agency called Pharmac, which is used to keep the cost of medicines very affordable for middle New Zealand. We are not going to sign up to agreements that stop this or future Governments putting well-designed environmental protections in place. We are not going to sign up to provisions on ISPs that make every mother in Lower Hutt worry that the TPP electronic police are going to fly in from Houston to cart their 16 year old son off to jail for file-sharing with his girlfriend.

If and when we get TPP in place, extreme claims that the sky is going to fall in will be made, irrespective of a balanced and sober reading of the final agreed TPP texts. It will be ground hog day for Chicken Licken. I recall, for example, at the end of the Uruguay Round where I was our chief negotiator, absurd claims that the Uruguay Round TRIPs agreement would ‘destroy the Maori economy’, in spite of the fact that the vast bulk of Maori assets, today valued at $40 billion, are in the export sector with much to gain from the Uruguay Round.

That exciting new dairy export company near Taupo called Miraka, the Maori name for milk, that combines significant Maori business assets, locally available renewable geothermal energy and overseas capital invested in it, simply would not exist without the Uruguay Round export subsidy disciplines that allowed our dairy industry to grow against grossly unfair competition, along with the more recent FTAs that created markets and created the interest of Asian investors in investing in New Zealand’s future alongside our own people. . .

He is aiming to get the political deal done by the end of this month:

The deal is ripe for the picking politically, which does not mean it will be easy to reach up and pick nice ripe fruit without damage. I have been deeply involved in the endgame of some pretty significant international negotiations over the last few decades and sometimes it isn’t very pretty. If I told true stories of what I have seen – right up to and including fist fights and negotiators sobbing over the phone, I really don’t think people would believe me.

So please remember this: nothing is ‘too big to fail’. Nor can I be 100% sure that all twelve countries will arrive on the right page at the same time. The one thing I can say with near certainty is that in the course of the endgame, something will come out of left field that we knew about but which no-one had seen before as a deal-breaker.  . .

But I think we will get there – metaphorically, I have called it in some interviews a 7/10 probability. It is not going to be a perfect deal – there never will be a perfect deal because compromises are now required. From a New Zealand point of view, the assessment my team of negotiators, led by Dr David Walker, and I have made and conveyed to other Ministers including the Prime Minister is that there is potentially a landing zone for a good deal that will indeed shape the future of trade and investment integration in the Asia Pacific region and quite decisively.

I would be much more positive in public than this, but for the current lack of clarity on a possible landing zone for our most important export – dairy. It is not that there is nothing on the table on dairy. Nor, let me assure the deep pessimists, do I believe there is any possibility of dairy simply being ‘excluded’ simply because it is too sensitive. That of course would take New Zealand right out of TPP. The issue for us is the quality of the deal on dairy and it is nowhere near there yet.

That will change because it has to change. People have not been putting their real cards on the table until they knew they had to. And until we heard from the US Congress, they were never going to do that. It is going to be an interesting few weeks.

Ladies and gentlemen, if the negotiators representing the 12 countries involved in TPP – almost 40% of global GDP – can pull this together, it will indeed be a big deal. Andrew Robb, my Australian counterpart, calls this ‘the biggest trade deal since the Uruguay Round’. I think he is right. And if we can do it, the TPP bus will not stop finally at the Tokyo station – Japan being among the last TPP entrants. TPP will indeed shape the future integration of the region and possibly strategic thinking elsewhere.

The future for New Zealand is not to shut up shop, to be fearful of foreigners, foreign investment, even targeted migration and suspicious of all Trade Agreements – my word, it must be so depressing to be part of the anti-trade movement. We need to engage with the world. We should back ourselves. We have every reason to be optimistic about our place in the world in the first quarter of the 21st Century. Concluding a high quality TPP Agreement is part of that future.

I am old enough to remember the past when New Zealand businesses were highly subsidised, when the power and money was in the hands of the few who had import licences, when we all paid dearly through higher prices and higher taxes for inferior local goods than higher quality and lower priced alternatives from overseas.

Those who oppose free trade would have us go back to that.

Free trade is fair trade which benefits the buyer and the seller.

As a very small country needing to sell what we produce to people in other countries in order to afford what we can’t produce ourselves, we need free trade and the TPP is an important part of freer trade.

 

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