TPP deal still a possibility, PM Key says

By Paul McBeth, The Scoop | September 5, 2016

Prime Minister John Key still sees a completed Trans Pacific Partnership agreement as a possibility, though he isn’t confident it will get over the line.

Key will talk to US President Barack Obama when they meet in Laos at the East Asia Summit later this week, and expects TPP will come up, he told reporters at his post-Cabinet press conference in Wellington. The far-ranging trade and investment deal has been losing traction with policy makers in the US, though Obama will still try to push the agreement through during the ‘lame duck’ period when most of the focus turns to the upcoming presidential and congressional elections.

“If it’s going to pass, that’s the period it’s going to pass,” Key said. “I’d be hesitant to use the word confident, but I’m certainly hopeful and I think it’s possible.”

The deal received another blow last month when Democrat presidential nominee Hilary Clinton joined her Republican rival Donald Trump in opposing the agreement on the grounds it poses too great a threat to American jobs and businesses.

If it fails to get over the line, Key said New Zealand would face a series of new issues, and would have to consider what that meant.

“Do we go back to the drawing board? How does that all work? Under what timeframe? It depends on who the president is and what they want to do,” he said.

New Zealand Trade Minister Todd McClay is currently on a roadshow seeking feedback on plans to shift the country’s trade policy, putting a greater emphasis on squeezing greater gains from existing deals rather than pursuing new ones.

Key said that policy shift won’t end up being a case of either/or, with work on both streams typically taking place at the same time.

He said New Zealand is still pursuing free trade agreements with the Gulf States, which stalled over the continued halt on the live sheep trade, and is making “good progress” in wooing the European Union.

New Zealand is also looking at how it would implement a free trade deal with the UK, and while Key said it was possible that could include Australia, a solo deal was “seen as the best way forward”.

The renegotiation of New Zealand’s agreement with China and chasing a deal with India are also high on the agenda, he said.

When asked about what response New Zealand might have to a G20 communique on the issue of excess steel supply, Key said he would have to assess whether it “makes sense to New Zealand to make a submission or even participate.”

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