The Labour Caucus has set five conditions under which it could support the Trans pacific Partnership.

It appears that the Caucus has listened to the advice of its Trade spokesman, David Parker, and resisted the temptation to come out in outright opposition to the Agreement.

And though it wants to impose tight conditions on investor state disputes settlements it does not oppose them overall.

That position, announced last night by Leader Andrew Little, puts them to the right of both of their potential co-alition partners, NZ First and the Greens who totally oppose the ISDS procedures even though only this week it has voted for a Bill which would effectively have done that…

On Wednesday NZ First had a Private Members’ Bill (the “Fighting Foreign Corporate Control Bill) defeated in Parliament.

That Bill would have prevented the Government from signing any treaty that gave foreign corporates the right to sue if they believed our laws interfered with their profit making.

Labour voted for it but that support was only for the first stage of the Bill.

But Mr Parker said they did that because they believe there should be a debate on the TPP.

“One of the reasons we are having marches in the streets with thousands of people that are anti TPP is that the Government, particularly Groser, hasn’t engaged with people,” he said last night.

And last night Labour’s response was much more nuanced and said Labour would not support the TPP if it undermined New Zealand’s sovereignty.

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Their statement says:

“This means:

  • Pharmac must be protected
  • Corporations cannot successfully sue the Government for regulating in the public interest
  • New Zealand maintains the right to restrict sales of farm land and housing to non-resident foreigner buyers
  • The Treaty of Waitangi must be upheld
  • Meaningful gains are made for our farmers in tariff reductions and market access”

POLITIK understands that there is more to the ISDS condition.

As suggested by Trade spokesman David Parker in POLITIK last week, the condition that Labour would not support the TPP if Corporations could successfully sue the Government has been qualified to allow the Government the freedom to regulate for health, safety, the protection of the environment and on economic issues such as intellectual property protection and innovation and ensuring the integrity of financial markets.

Mr Parker said the conditions agreed by Labour were all met by the Free Trade Agreement with China.

Plainly Labour would prefer not to have ISDS provisions but they are willing to recognise reality.

“Our position is that in trade agreements with first world countries we’d prefer agreements without them,” he said.

“You should be able to rely on the rule of law and state to state enforcement but it you are going to have them you’ve just got to be careful that you preserve sovereignty around the areas that we have.”

Mr Little said “that the lack of transparency around the Government’s negotiations with large foreign interests meant Kiwis were in the dark about which of their sovereign rights were being gambled away by the Government in the hope of better trade conditions. 

“Labour is pro free trade, as evidenced by the China Free Trade Agreement we signed in 2008.

But by negotiating the TPP in complete secrecy, the Government is creating a level of public unease,” he said.  

“We have been told that the Government expects to release the detail of the agreement after negotiations are complete. 

“This will be too late to guarantee protections on some of our most valuable institutions and rights.

“This is not good enough, and it is not enough time for New Zealanders to ensure their interests are being protected.”

But what’s important about Labour’s statement is first that it made it.

With powerful elements within the party, particularly the EPMU, opposed to the agreement at the same time as influential caucus members like former Leader Phil Goff supporting the agreement, the former Leader, David Cunliffe avoided coming out either opposed or in support of the agreement.

The previous position was to ‘withholds support for the TPP “until full details are made available and there is clear evidence that the agreement is in the best interests of New Zealand.”

Perhaps what this statement says more than anything Labour has done or said over the past few weeks, is that it is now a party which takes itself seriously as a future Government.