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Concluding TPP govt’s top trade priority, says Key

The government's top trade priority this year will be concluding the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but Prime Minister John Key's speech for today's opening of Parliament suggests it's given up on expecting to pass fundamental reform to environmental law.

While Key rattled off a list of areas in which the government would "advance legislation" this year, his reference to its desire to change the settings of Sections 6 and 7, currently opposed by its support partners United Future and the Maori Party, will not be met.

"The government will progress the remainder of its resource management reforms, which among other things, will reduce the number of consent applications that are required, reduce costs and reduce the length of time involved in processing consents," he said.

However, Key expected a new National Objectives Framework for freshwater quality improvement would be introduced this year.

In speech notes to which he only occasionally referred in an attacking political speech on the first sitting of Parliament, Key outlined plans to "progress legislation" in areas including a new "flexible, risk-based food safety system", a more transparent and enforceable animal welfare system, trans-Tasman mobile phone roaming, discourage cartel behaviour, and create a new professional body to replace the Teachers' Council.

On the trade front, a review of the Customs and Excise Act is on the books for this year, and "at least seven" air service negotiations will be pursued. A new Trade Single Window will be rolled out as part of improved border management. An extension of the SmartGate automated border control system will be evaluated.

"Our top priority will be to seek an outcome to the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations" to include "comprehensive duty-free access to markets together with improved conditions for services, investment and government procurement markets."

Improved access to Japan and the US would be two major outcomes of a successfully concluded TPP.

Speaking beyond his official notes in Parliament, Key sought to contrast what he said was his government's intention to "responsibly manage finances" with Labour allegedly finding "$1.5 billion at the end of a rainbow" to promise new policies.

He derided Labour's new policy to pay $60 a week to families with new babies, saying the upper household income threshold of $150,000 was "Labour's new definition of poverty."

"It doesn't add up."

In reply, Labour leader David Cunliffe accused the government of "clinging to business as usual while more and more Kiwis find themselves struggling."

While the economy might recover this year, it would be based on "insurance cheques from the disaster in Christchurch and some good prices for milksolids", and the government would be "making sure it goes to the top few".

"Take a devastated city and the price of milk out of the equation, and what are you left with?" said Cunliffe.

Green Party leader Russel Norman said this year's election represented a historic opportunity to elect the first "truly progressive government" since the 1972 election won by Labour under Norman Kirk, while NZ First leader Winston Peters played on a narrow-based economic recovery.

"We have an economy characterised by one dominant export product - milk powder; one dominant export company - Fonterra; one dominant export market - China; and one dominant import - people - immigration."

(BusinessDesk)

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