Labour has confirmed that it will vote against the TPP legislation the Government will introduce into Parliament next week.
Finance spokesperson, Grant Robertson, confirmed this to POLITIK last night.
However, the party may vote for some parts of the legislation when the original Omnibus Bill has to be split into parts during the Parliamentary process.
Nevertheless, the symbolism of the party voting against a trade agreement is huge.
It has never done so in the past and two former leaders — Helen Clark and Phil Goff — have both said they supported the TPP.
Mr Goff has been given leave to not vote with the rest of the Caucus against the legislation.
The party has been reluctant up to now to say it would vote against the TPP.
Initially, it set out five bottom lines that it wanted to be satisfied before it would agree to support the trade agreement.
At the party’s annual conference in Palmerston North, last November immediately after the negotiating countries reached final agreement on the TPP, Labour Leader Andrew Little would not commit to a yes or no vote.
Instead, he said he would fight the erosion of sovereignty that the TPP would bring “tooth and nail.”
And that theme is picked up in Labour’s minority report in the Select Committee report on the TPP.
It noted that the Government’s Chief Negotiator (David Walker) told o the committee that the Government had given a clear negotiating mandate for Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement negotiations.
“Unfortunately, and under repetitive questioning, the Chief Negotiator could give no assurance that that mandate encompassed preserving the right of future New Zealand governments to ban the sale of residential housing to non-resident foreign speculators,” their report says.
“Locking in the status quo and weakening the right of future sovereign governments to ban foreign speculators is foolish.
“Countries as varied as Singapore, Vietnam, and Australia sought and received wide-ranging powers in the TPPA to bolster their economies against the negative effects of foreign speculation in their housing markets.
Furthermore, it should be noted that the failure to preserve the sovereign right of New Zealand Governments to ban non-resident speculators is long-held Labour Party policy.
“The failure by the Government to preserve a right for future governments to act in the national interest in this way flies in the face of a previously established bipartisan approach to trade.”
Labour also questions the economic modelling employed in the National Interest Assessment and complains about the short time frame the party and submitters to the Select Committee had to consider their submissions.
While it is enough to persuade Labour not to vote with the Government next week, it is not enough to persuade the TPP’s most persistent critic, Professor Jane Kelsey, that the party is serious in its opposition.
In a statement, she said: “Labour has said they will vote against ratifying the TPPA ‘as it stands’.
“But their minority report addresses only two narrow issues: foreclosing the right to ban foreign purchasers of residential housing and the economic modelling.
“Anything that was critical of previous agreements that Labour negotiated was ignored, including investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS), despite clear evidence that is highly problematic.”
And this underlines the tightrope Labour has been walking — between a large percentage of its supporters on the left and its own history as a trade agreement negotiating Government.
There is also the need for Labour to connect with middle New Zealand and that means being seen to be at least partly business friendly.
Ironically yesterday three Labour MPs — Grant Robertson, Jacinda Ardern and Clayton Cosgrove — had travelled up from Wellington where the House is sitting to attend the opening of the new offices of the Auckland Employers and Manufacturers’ Association.
Perhaps the main question for Labour will be whether it could ever conceivably pull out of the agreement.
Though Mr Little has hinted he would like to renegotiate it, Labour MPs say a pullout would be highly unlikely.