’It takes nine to tango’ in Pacific free trade plan

New Zealand Herald, Auckland

’It takes nine to tango’ in Pacific free trade plan

By Audrey Young

8 July 2011

United States Apec Ambassador Kurt Tong yesterday insisted that the negotiations among nine countries for a Trans Pacific Partnership free trade agreement were based on a level playing field.

"There is this sense that if the economy is bigger and the companies are bigger, therefore it is not a level playing field," he said "but in actuality it is a level playing field and there also is a lot of opportunity in doing an agreement with a big country."

Mr Tong was in Wellington to discuss with officials the Apec summit in November which will be hosted by the United States in Honolulu.

The TPP deal will not be concluded by then but some sort of outline is expected - all nine countries are Apec members: US, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, Vietnam and Australia.

Mr Tong said the TPP was the biggest trade issue on the US agenda at present and that one of the real attractions for the "United States is that there is a broad membership and it has a potential to expand over time."

He said that when the United States negotiated an agreement, the partner had an equal voice because there wasn’t an agreement unless both sides agreed.

"’It takes two to tango’ is the basic principle of a negotiation but in this case it takes nine to tango which makes it a complicated dance - more like a square dance than a tango," he said.

Asked about concerns that a TPP would mean countries imposing their regulations on others, Mr Tong said countries in free trade agreements remained sovereign in their decision-making.

The main thrust was on how the regulations were made. It was about having regulatory systems that were transparent, scientific and consistent with themselves and that allowed for an appropriate amount of public comment and input into decision-making.

"That’s the real thrust of regulatory co-operation and coherence. It’s not full harmonisation.

"In an ambitious agreement like we hope TPP will be, they do take on obligations to consult, to share information and to follow recognised best principles on how regulations are made."

A meeting about TPP in Wellington on Wednesday attracted 130 people.

Organiser Mary Ellen O’Connor said the Government should take note that people did not want a Trans Pacific Partnership agreement.

"We do not want to see negative effects on public health, on our liberties on the internet, on sovereignty, on our ability to limit the harms of mining companies and cigarette companies."

She said the TPP was "a significant threat that would allow multi-national companies the right to challenge Government decisions."