Stuff | 21/02/2011
Compromise likely for US trade deal
Prime Minister John Key has warned that New Zealanders may have to swallow some difficult trade-offs as the price of a trade deal encompassing the United States.
His comments were made at the start of the New Zealand-US Partnership forum bringing together New Zealand and US politicians, officials and business people for two days in Christchurch.
The forum, now into its fourth year, is the backdrop for the release of a major new study on New Zealand-US relations, carried out by Washington think tank the Center for Strategic and International Studies in conjunction with New Zealand Institute of International Affairs.
The study recommends steps to achieve greater cooperation between the two countries in areas including climate change, the creation of a joint centre of excellence for science and technology projects, stronger educational and research ties, modifying visa schemes to reduce travel barriers and working together on nuclear non-proliferation initiatives.
The morning session of the forum focused on the trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, a trade deal encompassing New Zealand, the United States and a number of other Apec economies.
US President Barack Obama has urged countries negotiating the deal to aim for agreement before the Apec forum in Hawaii at the end of the year.
Opening the forum this morning, Mr Key said the trade deal was "crucial" for New Zealand’s future because the US was such an important trading partner.
But he acknowledged it would require some difficult decisions to be made on both sides.
"I know that the prospect of liberalisation has made some sectors in the US anxious. New Zealand will also be facing requests, including from the US, which we have not confronted in previous FTA’s."
He did not spell out what those requests may be and while the US has singled out issues including drug buying agency Pharmac as potential stumbling blocks in the past, the Government has repeatedly said that it considers Pharmac delivers significant benefits to taxpayers and it will resist moves to dismantle it. Intellectual property laws are also the subject of negotiations.
The negotiations have faced mounting criticism, meanwhile, from anti-free trade activists, who are protesting the secrecy surrounding them.
Academic Jane Kelsey has described the secrecy as "redolent of the Star Chamber". She has described the trans-Pacific Partnership as guaranteeing special rights to foreign investors and putting a straight jacket around what laws New Zealand government’s can adopt for the next century.
About 200 delegates and observers were due to attend the two day forum but events were off to a slow start after a group of nine US Congressmen were delayed by a congressional vote. US Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell also missed the opening. Meanwhile, the star guest, a senior member of the Obama cabinet, was forced to cancel altogether.
Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano was due to address the forum but cancelled after a customs officer was shot.