Two of Labour’s former leaders, Phil Goff and David Shearer, who are still senior members of its caucus are quite clear that they support the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).
A third former leader, Helen Clark, also supports the agreement.
Mr Goff, a former leader and former Trade Minister and now an Auckland mayoral candidate, and David Shearer, also a former Labour leader, last night told the Herald they both still supported the TPP.
Mr Goff said the deal should be signed.
Former Labour Prime Minister Helen Clark also backed the TPP among 12 countries and it was begun under her leadership. Mr Goff was Trade Minister.
Labour has decided to oppose the TPP on the grounds that it undermines New Zealand’s sovereignty.
Mr Goff did not blatantly criticise Labour’s position. But he effectively dismissed that view and the suggestion that Labour would not be able to prevent foreign investors buying New Zealand residential property.
“Every time you sign any international agreement you give away a degree of your sovereignty.” He cited the China free trade deal negotiated when he was Trade Minister.
“We gave up the sovereign right to impose tariffs against China when we signed up to the China free trade agreement. But it came with quid pro quos. China gave up its right to impose huge tariffs on us.
“That’s what an international agreement is; it’s an agreement to follow a particular course of action and a limitation on your ability to take action against the other country.
“You have the ultimate right of sovereignty that you can back out of an agreement – with all the cost that that incurs.”
The costs of not being part of such a wide trade agreement would be significant.
The TPP obliges member Governments to treat investors from member countries as though they were domestic unless exceptions are written into the agreement. Labour wanted an exception written in for investors in residential housing but National did not seek it.
Mr Goff is critical of National for choosing not to do that.
“But there is more than one way to skin that particular cat,” he said. “We retained the right to make it financially undesirable or unattractive to buy up residential property in New Zealand.
“You can still impose, as Singapore and Hong Kong do, stamp duty on foreign investors.” . .
Labour’s biggest achievement last year was the appearance of caucus unity.
This breaking of ranks shows that the veneer of unity was thin.
That some in Labour disagree with the caucus position might entertain political tragics.
But the bigger significance is that for the first time in decades it’s walking away from the consensus it’s had with National on free trade.
Caucus disunity might hamper its chances of returning to government. But it will get there sooner or later and any failure to foster free trade progress as successive governments have, won’t be in the country’s best interests.