TPPA signing: Thousands take to the streets as trade deal is made official
Protesters against the signing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) did not appear to understand the trade deal, Prime Minister John Key says.
Seven years after talks began, the TPPA is now official after it was signed in Auckland by 12 trade ministers on Thursday.
Protesters had gathered outside and security was tight at Auckland's SkyCity convention centre for the official signing.
Earlier, ministers received a traditional Maori welcome from Ngati Whatua marking the beginning of proceedings.
Key said the TPPA was "overwhelmingly in the best interests of our country and citizens".
New Zealand was proud to be involved in the whole process, which was many years in the making, he said.
The agreement will be presented next Tuesday to Parliament for examination. It will need to be ratified through normal Parliamentary process before it comes into force.
"The Trans Pacific Partnership ultimately represents a giant vote of confidence in and optimism for our future economy and our people. Today is a very, very important day for the 12 countries involved in the TPP," Key said.
Key said TPPA was literally "a big deal", comprising countries that make up a huge proportion of global trade.
But he emphasised the agreement was still just a piece of paper, "or rather over 16,000 pieces of paper until it actually comes into force".
The deal has sparked vocal opposition in the lead-up to Thursday's signing, and protests took place across the country. Queen Street was packed with more than 5000 people earlier as Ngati Whatua led off Auckland's protest, and protesters blocked the central city intersections to make a point.
"Some of those people absolutely are rent-a-protest. They'll turn up to any particular thing," Key said.
"It won't matter whether it's mixed ownership model, it won't matter whether it's mining. Some of them are holding up signs for 1080."
Asked whether he thought protesters really understood the TPPA, Key said the vox pops he had seen in the media indicated they did not.
"Or where they put up an argument, those arguments can be pretty easily defeated," he said.
"In some cases there's a bit of intellectual dishonesty from a few people who actually probably know better."
Key did not agree with claims the Government could have done a better job in communicating the TPPA.
"There's been more consultation over TPP than probably any other free trade agreement we've had. There's been widespread consultation with Maori, as they know."
Labour leader Andrew Little said a number of Labour MPs were involved in the protests. Labour was opposed to the TPPA because compromises to New Zealand's sovereignty were not justified by the "meagre economic gains.
"Limits are placed on laws we can pass on land sales in relation to non-resident foreigners, and laws falling under a variety of categories allow governments, citizens and corporations in other countries to have a say in our laws.
"There is no other FTA (free trade agreement) that imposes these constraints or creates these obligations in our law making," Little said.
"QUALITY OF THE AGREEMENT"
New Zealand Trade Minister Todd McClay said Maori business stood to benefit significantly as a result of the liberalisation in the agreement.
The Maori economy was worth $40 billion a year, and much of it was in the primary sector where tariffs were being removed.
The Government took its responsibilities under the Treaty of Waitangi seriously, McClay said.
As in all previous free trade agreements, New Zealand had negotiated a clause protecting its rights to fulfil its Treaty obligations.
McClay said many other countries had expressed interest in joining the TPPA which showed "a vote of confidence in the quality of the agreement".
US trade representative Michael Froman was asked to respond to critics' fears about foreign investors and corporations intervening in New Zealand through the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism, which allows them to seek damages from countries who breach the TPPA.
Froman said the TPPA closed loopholes found in other trade agreements around the world, ensuring governments of the 12 nations in the deal could regulate in the public interest.
"Collectively we've reached that conclusion and have advanced the ball towards making sure that ISDS procedures are used appropriately."
The TPPA was the product of work from a diverse set of countries - both large and small, developed and developing, he said.
Work was being done in the US to educate members of Congress on what the agreement contained, and to address their concerns.
Froman was confident members would see the benefits to their constituents, and the deal would get the necessary bipartisan support to be approved.
In response to a question about whether China could be included in the TPPA, Froman said the agreement was never directed against any particular country.
"It's important to have a constructive economic relationship with [China]," he said.
Andrew Robb, Australian Minister for Trade and Investment, was the first leader to sign the agreement.
He was followed by Brunei's Lim Jock Seng, Canada's Chrystia Freeland, Chile's Heraldo Munoz, Japan's Shuichi Takatori, Malaysia's Mustapa Mohamed, Mexico's Illdefonso Guajardo, Peru's Magali Silva, Singapore's Lim Hng Kiang, the United States' Michael Froman, and Vietnam's Vu Huy Hoang.
McClay, was the last of the dignitaries to sign the agreement.
McClay said on behalf of all ministers involved that they were "pleased to announce we have today signed the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement".
"It sets a new standard of trade and investment in one of the world's fastest growing and dynamic regions."
The goal was to enhance shared prosperity, promote jobs and provide sustainable economic development.
Chief negotiators have been asked to do some work and report back before TPPA countries consider other nations joining, he said.
Asked whether the treaty was locked in or there was room for more negotiation down the track, Froman said the focus for now was on getting the agreement approved domestically.
"That question has not been raised, we have not been discussing that question up to this point."