By last night what may prove to be the critical final round of the TPP negotiations was underway in Atlanta.
Tim Groser however was saying very little reflecting the delicacy of the situation New Zealand is in.
That was hinted at by the Prime Minister in New York when he once again repeated that New Zealand was unlikely to get everything it wanted on dairy access.
Mr Groser had a meeting yesterday with US Trade Representative Michael Froman which was expected to focus on dairy.
There are indications that New Zealand is likely to get concessions on one commodity – beef — into Japan.
Currently our beef exports pay a 38.5% tariff but the Japanese newspaper, Yomiuri Shimbun reported that according to sources, Japan would cut its import tariff on U.S. beef from 38.5% 27.5% when the TPP agreement comes into effect, to 20% 10 years later and eventually to 9% 15 years later.
The paper said the government was considering reducing its tariff on beef imported from other countries participating in the TPP negotiations, including Australia and New Zealand, in the same manner.
However there are no suggestions yet that Japan would be willing to allow for an increase in New Zealand dairy exports.
Canada on the other hand may be preparing its farmers for some concessions to be made to the United States on dairy.
Concessions by Canada are a US precondition for any concessions by the US to New Zealand on dairy.
But Canada’s Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritze said yesterday that Canadian farmers would receive government compensation for any losses resulting from a TPP trade deal.
Unhappy Canadian dairy farmers parked dozens of tractors in central Ottawa and walked their cows down the main street opposite Parliament on Tuesday to protest against the TPP e talks that they said could cripple them.
A re-elected Conservative government would maintain “the pillars of supply management,” Ritz said, but he did not rule out allowing more imports as Canada did in an earlier free trade agreement with Europe.
“If there is loss on your farm, (or) the processing side, you will be compensated,” Ritz said in the debate in Ottawa organized by the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, an organisation of farm groups.
Meanwhile the politics of the TPP in New Zealand became more complex yesterday with former Prime Minister Helen Clark telling reporters in New York with Mr. Key that she supported the deal.
“What always haunts one as New Zealand prime Minister is will there be a series of trade blocks develop that you are not part of,” she said.
“Because that would be unthinkable for New Zealand as a small export oriented trading nation.
“So of course New Zealand has to be in on the action with the TPP and go for the very best deal it can as the agreement expands the original four economies to become a regional agreement.”
Officially Labour neither supports nor opposes the TPP — instead it is offering support conditional on four objectives being met.
However Labour Leader Andrew Little when responding to Ms. Clark’s comments appeared to place more weight on one of the four; improved access for dairy than the other three.
He told NBR radio that unless the TPP offered “materially improved market access” on dairy and agriculture, then New Zealand would get no gain from being part of the deal.
“The problem is that if the best deal we can get is a [bad] deal, then what is there in it for us?
“If there’s no materially improved market access on dairy and agriculture and all we get is a set of obligations adding to our costs, and a potential strain on our sovereignty, then you have to ask what the point is.”
Nevertheless Ms. Clark’s support may make it easier for those Labour caucus members more sympathetic to it like the original negotiating Minister Phil Goff and Trade spokesman David Parker.
Technically the Government does not need Labour’s support to sign the deal.
But Mr. Groser is understood to be very keen to avoid New Zealand’s traditional bipartisan support for trade agreements from breaking apart.
Maybe as early as today we will have a clearer idea of what is happening with the most important trade deal this country has negotiated since the deal to export butter to the UK when that country joined the EEC in 1972.