The Government is planning to force Labour’s to vote yes or no on the TPP.

And in doing that it is clear from statements  from across the National caucus that the party is gearing up to make support for the TPP a de facto referendum on whether New Zealand should be open to the world or an insular protectionist country.

In short, National sees the TPP as a major dividing line between itself and Opposition parties.

In his State of the Nation Address on Wednesday, the Prime Minister said “it is unthinkable that any responsible government would now walk away from the TPP.

“It will be positive for our country and for our future.”

It’s a theme being picked up across the Caucus.

First term List MP Chris Bishop posted on Facebook yesterday: “In my view the big new divide in NZ politics these days is not really urban v rural, conservative v liberal or even left v right.

“It’s about our attitude to the outside world – is New Zealand’s future about being a vibrant, confident and competitive trading nation based on increasing connectedness to the global economy, or is it about returning to a 1970s style “Fortress NZ” economy that attempts to insulate NZ from the rest of the world and everything and everyone in it?”

And the Minister at the centre of the debate, Trade Minister Todd McClay told POLITIK that it did define the difference between National and Labour.

“National is a party that backs growth in the economy and backs jobs and we support free trade,” he said.

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Mr McClay is expecting to table the text of the TPP and the National Impact Assessment in Parliament on February 9 and then it will be referred to the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee where submissions will be heard, a process that may take up to three months.

Mr McClay said the House would then get to vote on that Committee’s report on the agreement.

Then there would be the actual legislation.

“We have to have the enabling legislation and this will have the changes to New Zealand legislation to allow the agreement to take effect so our obligations ad commitments will be in there,” he said.

“That will be one piece of legislation.

“It will be delivered to the House later in the year.”

Mr Little has said Labour would support tariff legislation.

But he said Labour opposes the agreement because “The TPP allows other countries and big business to have a say on how laws are made in New Zealand.

“Labour supports free trade but this agreement goes beyond trade and is an attack on our democracy – that is why we cannot support it in its present form.”

This appears to be a step beyond Labour’s earlier position in which it set five principles which would determine its stance on the agreement.

Mr Little has previously y said that only one of those –  that New Zealand needed to maintain the right to restrict sales of farm land and housing to non-resident foreigner buyers – was not covered off in the final agreement.

An authoritative Labour source told POLITIK that in fact Labour could not be definitive in how it might vote on any omnibus legislation to implement the agreement until it had seen that legislation.

But it s clear that Mr Little and the Caucus are under intense pressure from the left to oppose the agreement and that to support the Government legislation would risk a huge backlash from the party.

As an indicator of party opinion the left wing bog “The Standard” has attracted over 300 posts mainly supporting Mr Little’s statement that he opposes the agreement.

Meanwhile the Government is happy to point out the pluses in the agreement.

Mr McClay believes it will be good news for his Rotorua electorate with its strong forestry base.

“We’ve had Labour leaders ands candidates show up here election after election saying more investment musty go into forestry and we should be processing the wood and adding value,” he said.

“Part of the reason that hasn’t happened is that if you want to export a log then there are very low or no tariffs – but if you want to process the wood in any way the duty rate goes up.

“Well, TPP gets rid of that over time.

“So it’s exceptionally good for my electorate but it’s exceptionally good for the whole country.”

He also cited wine and horticulture as industries that would benefit from the agreement.

There are some in the National Party who believe that the intensity of debate over the TPP will soon die down and that middle New Zealand will lose interest in it before too much longer.

But for the left it’s likely to be a burning issue for some time yet and that will leave Labour with very little room to move.

Expect to see National try and exploit Labour’s discomfort over this.