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Governments and business interests are talking up progress on the TTP, the trans-pacific trade partnership that aims to join the US, Australia and others to an existing free-trade grouping that includes New Zealand.
The TTP is the key part of the Apec trade ministers’ agenda in Honolulu and already Trade Minister Tim Groser reports several major breakthroughs.
• Japan has joined the TPP talks in the hope it will bind the US into the Asian trading system to balance China
• US pledges the agreement to go beyond the scope of normal free-trade deals
• China and Russia, who are also at Apec, are keeping an open mind on TTP though are not part of the formal discussions
• Russia to be admitted to the World Trade Organisation
Mr Groser says New Zealand, as the co-founder of the TTP with Singapore, is in a “sweet spot” to influence the wider TTP, which involves the US, Australia, Malaysia, Peru and Vietnam signing on with existing members New Zealand, Singapore, Chile and Brunei.
Apart from reducing tariffs, the TPP covers non-tariff barrier issues, including government procurement, the conduct of state-owned companies, regulatory convergence and protection of intellectual property.
“New Zealand is strongly committed to the vision of TPP as a comprehensive and high-quality agreement,” Mr Groser says.
A key feature of progress in the wider TTP is President Obama’s newly found enthusiasm for free trade as a means of reviving the US economy. He urged a completiong of the TTP talks by the end of next year.
He recently signed off FTAs with Colombia, Panama and Korea that had been originally been negotiated in the days of the Bush administration.
NZ US Council executive director Stephen Jacobi, who is attending the business side of Apec, says President Obama's TPP announcement more than satisfies New Zealand business expectations at this point.
"We are particularly encouraged that leaders from TPP economies have reaffirmed the final agreement must be comprehensive, high quality and innovative," he says.
“Eliminating tariffs within a 10-year time frame and effectively addressing new generation issues such as regulatory coherence and innovation are critical elements that need to finalised in the next period."
Mr Groser says the TPP ministers will be reporting to their leaders on membership and other issues ahead of the meeting of TPP leaders planned for today (NZ time) in Honolulu. New Zealand is being represented by Deputy Prime Minister Bill English.
Meanwhile, opposition to the TTP is being raised as an election issue, with the Greens and Labour both claiming that it will be detrimental to New Zealand’s interests.
Mr Groser dismisses this and points to separate talks he has held at Apec with Mexico and Thailand.
These have produced an agreement for Mexico to drop its 20% tariff on kiwifruit, while the closer economic partnership with Thailand has doubled bilateral trade to $2 billion since it was agreed in 2005.