Labour’s long awaited meeting with Tim Groser over the TPP took place last night and broke up with no comment from the Labour leadership.

They want to wait till today before they say anything.

That reflects the delicacy of the situation they are in with strong opposition to the TPP from across the left of New Zealand politics balanced against a recognition that sooner or later they will be in Government and will have then to decide whether to remain within the TPP or leave it.

Undoubtedly overnight there will have been some sounding out of key people from the various factions within the Caucus and the party.

Meanwhile Trade Minister Tim Groser was also saying very little beyond a statement from a spokesman saying the talks had been “constructive.”

The Prime Minister on the other had plenty to say, particularly ion the question of whether a future Labour Government could “restrict” foreign property purchasers.

Currently the Overseas Investment Act provides for screening of foreign buyers but not for urban land.

There may however be loopholes available to Labour which is why Mr Groser is so reluctant to discuss this issue in public.

A spokesman for him yesterday told POLITIK that “New Zealand retains the flexibility to make the approval criteria under the Overseas Investment Act (for all applications requiring approval) more or less restrictive”

But the Prime Minister did not know whether that meant that the Schedule to the Act (which lists the types of property for which approval is required) could be amended.


And asked if a future government could restrict the sale of residential land to foreigners he said: “Technically, no.

“But in the end governments make their own call and it’s up to others whether they want to go and challenge that.

“Technically people can go and do all sorts of things.

 It just means if someone wants to take a case against them and dispute that, they may have a much stronger argument.

“I’m not saying it’s okay. I’m just saying technically any government can flout any free trade agreement rules that they set, and there will be a process for arbitration of those if someone wants to take … a case against them.”

But he said it took New Zealand 80 years to take against Australia at the WTO over Australian restrictions on New Zealand apple imports.

“So you can take but countries often don’t for a period of time,” he said.

This is particularly relevant because Labour have said that a future Labour Government could simply unilaterally impose restrictions on foreign property buyers even though the TPP was in force.

Mr Key appears to be saying that if they did they would probably get away with it.

Labour were watching a live stream of Mr Key’s press conference and it seems that the apparent casualness of the Prime Minister’s comments surprised them.

Labour has wider concerns about the TPP — and believes that its bottom line conditions may not have been met.

One area of growing concern may be the requirement that the TPP not conflict with the Treaty of Waitangi and Labour’s Maori Development Spokesperson Nanaia Mahuta is calling for the text of the TPP to be referred not only to the Foreign Affairs and Defence Select Committee but also the Maori Affairs Select Committee.

The Ministry of Foreign Affair’s Chief Trade Negotiator, David Walker, told the Foreign Affairs and defence Select Committee that he expected ratification of the TPP would involve two separate steps.

First the Foreign Affairs Committee would consider the TPP draft and make a recommendation on whether the Government should proceed.

Since the Government has a majority on that Committee it is unlikely to oppose the agreement.

That is the only time a Parliamentary body will be required to vote yes/no on the TPP as a whole.

Then it is still not clear how much amending legislation will be required to implement the TPP — obviously the tariff and copyright changes will require to be voted on in the House but what else remains something of a mystery.

But only when all the amending legislation has been passed would New Zealand deposit its “instrument of ratification” to indicate that it was a full member of the TPP.

So in a way Labour has the luxury of being able to criticise and oppose the TPP knowing that it will still go into effect.

What will be interesting to watch in Labour’s reactions will be if it makes a cast iron commitment to leave the TPP when it next gets into Government.

Though it will be under pressure to do that, it would seem unlikely.