Editorial: TPP won't free us any time soon

Last updated 05:00 10/10/2013

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OPINION: Bob Dylan's hymn to the prisoner, I Shall Be Released, should become the theme song for the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

On the face of it, the prisoner's words are hopeful: "'I see my light come shining, from the west down to the east. Any day now, any day now ... I shall be released."

Which is fine until you consider that the most obvious example of a light moving along that axis is the sun. Then you notice that it's travelling in reverse direction, west to east.

So there's a theory that the songwriter is evoking a prisoner who, in spite of his brave words, won't find the envisaged day of redemption until the natural order of the world is reversed. Not any time soon.

Which does bring us back to the TPP; a hugely significant trade deal if it ever comes to pass.

Prime Minister John Key is in "any day now" mode, claiming significant progress in the Bali talks, and suggesting the deal is on track for completion by the end of this year.

Hardly. Or if it is, there's scant prospect of it being in any form remotely acceptable to New Zealanders.

Because the natural order of the things - certainly in the realms of the United States and Japan - remains one of trenchant protectionism, especially around the products that New Zealand is best at producing: beef, sheepmeat and dairy.

New Zealand would be stupid to sign some limited agreement which excludes what we're most interested in. Particularly one which resembles that truly rotten free trade agreement that Australia's John Howard government signed with the United States in 2004.

In any case, so many other sticking points remain among the 12 nations trying to hammer out the TPP that it's hard to avoid the impression that if they are "on track" for a deal, then the momentum is more rhetorical than physical.

Would the new deal have dominance over the many bilateral trade deals already in existence throughout between these nations? Where are the indication of real progress on intellectual property and trademark issues? New Zealand's Pharmac system remains a strong sticking point with the US in particular. What of the points of disagreement - reportedly 300 of them - in the environment chapter alone?

And how, on God's green earth, is a deal acceptable to an informed New Zealand public going to get the nod from those mad protectionists in the US Congress, ensconced as so many of them are in seats that are entirely safe as long as the incumbents don't do something damned stupid like erode the protections that are keeping their people in jobs.

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And bear in mind that next year contains the mid-term elections.

If a good deal really can, somehow, be struck soon then that would be fantastic.

If a meaningful deal is struck soon, that would be fantastic.

But more likely, even if it is on track (and that's debatable) it's going to be a slow, slow train coming.

- The Southland Times

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