Labour now appears to face a major challenge over whether it supports the Trans Pacific Partnership.
And there may be some substance to Government claims that there is a division between the left and right of the caucus on the issue.
As Trade Ministers meet in Hawaii for what many think will be the final negotiating round the party now faces a “make your mind up” moment over whether it supports the Trans Pacific Partnership.
And it appears that events over the weekend and yesterday are causing the party to review its conditional support announced last Thursday.
Then the party issued a set of conditions under which it could support the agreement.
The left were quick off the mark to attack them.
TPP opponent Jane Kelsey described them as conditions “you could drive a bus through”.
“Andrew LIttle needs to have the guts to say to Phil Goff, Mike Moore protégé Clayton Cosgrove, Health minister Annette King (who has been super silent on the health impacts) and David Parker that this deal will place unacceptable handcuffs on future Labour governments and that Labour is going to oppose it – and he needs to do so before the TPPA ministers meet in Maui on Tuesday (tomorrow),” she said.
But last night senior Opposition sources were directing journalists to a blog post by the party’s polling analyst, Rob Salmond, which said: “I’m pretty clear that, given its current position, Labour will oppose the eventual TPP text.”
That was not what the party statement said last Thursday and though Mr Salmond has no official status the fact that journalists were being referred to his blog post hinted at a change in attitude in parts of the Labour caucus.
But Trade spokesman David Parker said he and Leader Andrew Little and Phil Twyford were rock solid on the bottom lines.
“The Nats can’t escape two basic facts here,” he said.
“First our conditions were met in the China FTA — a reasonable bar to jump and second, New Zealanders are overwhelmingly opposed to overseas land sales.”
Meanwhile he was trying to unscramble where the Government stood on what is becoming the key condition for Labour – whether a future Government would have the right to ban house sales to foreigners.
On Sunday the Prime Minister told “Q+A” that the Korean Free Trade agreement “stops us banning Koreans from buying residential property” and because anything in the Korean agreement would be extended to the China Agreement, that meant that the Government couldn’t stop Chinese form buying property here either.
“I don’t want to ban foreigners from buying residential property,’ Mr Key said.
“I don’t think that’s actually good public policy that works.”
But his Trade Negotiations Minister, Tim Groser, was not quite so sure when he appeared on TV3’s “The Nation” and was asked whether he could guarantee that New Zealand would not face legal action if tried to ban foreign house sales.
“With respect to residential land, if a future government were – contrary to our intentions – wanting to move in a more aggressive way in this, it would depend on how they did it,” he said.
“Can I give you a categorical guarantee that what I think could emerge in TPP would rule out a legal challenge?
“No, I can’t.
“And anyway, there’s always a logical problem here.
“No matter how you construct either domestic or international law, you can’t stop somebody having a crack at you.
“The real issue is whether they succeed.
“So what we’ll be doing over the next few days is ensuring that the legislation that governs these sorts of actions will give future New Zealand governments the best possible defence against such attacks.”
Mr Parker appears to partly agree with Mr Groser and said in an opinion piece in the “NZ Herald” that the South Korean FTA “does not limit the sovereignty of a future NZ government to restrict house sales to foreigners, but it does create a risk of South Korean (legal) claims. “
“While the difficulty of proving substantial loss means an actual suit is unlikely, this is very poor practice by National, which Labour rejects.
“We have called on the government to fix this aspect of the South Korean FTA. “
But though it is clear that Labour MPs like Mr Parker and former Trade Minister Phil Goff would prefer to be able to support the agreement, Mr Key said yesterday their support would not be needed to get any enabling legislation — if it was needed — through Parliament.
He said he believed United Future MP Peter Dunne would vote with the Government which along with ACT’s David Seymour would give it the numbers.
But it did look yesterday as though Mr Key was deliberately muddying the waters in the hope that it might open up the cracks between Jane Kelsey’s supporters in the Labour caucus and the party’s leadership.