Parker: Trade ne­go­ti­a­tions start at home

The trade min­is­ter says there’s more to his job than air miles – he has to win hearts and minds here. Hamish Ruther­ford re­ports.

The Dominion Post - - Business -

David Parker may be the busiest man in New Zealand. He makes the joke that if you want some­thing done, you give it to the busy per­son.

But the stakes are high. As well as be­ing the min­is­ter of trade, Parker holds the at­tor­ney gen­eral, eco­nomic devel­op­ment and en­vi­ron­ment port­fo­lios.

In a Gov­ern­ment draw­ing more min­is­te­rial salaries than its pre­de­ces­sors, Parker ap­pears to have enough work for at least two se­nior min­is­ters.

This has led some to raise con­cerns about whether enough fo­cus is be­ing placed on trade.

Ex­porters have pri­vately ex­pressed dis­quiet that since the new Labour-led Gov­ern­ment was formed, no min­is­ter has vis­ited China, New Zealand’s largest trad­ing part­ner.

Parker has no plans to travel to China be­fore Novem­ber, not­ing he met his Chi­nese coun­ter­part at Apec.

‘‘I haven’t been to China yet be­cause I’ve been go­ing else­where. You can’t go ev­ery­where at once.’’

National is rais­ing con­cerns, about Parker and For­eign Min­is­ter Win­ston Peters.

‘‘I’ve heard from the busi­ness com­mu­nity, they sort of feel like they’ve got a trade min­is­ter that doesn’t like travel and a for­eign min­is­ter who doesn’t like for­eign­ers,’’ said National’s Todd McClay, the for­mer trade min­is­ter. ‘‘I’m sure that’s not the case, but trade is very im­por­tant for New Zealand.’’

Parker says he should be judged not by his travel sched­ule, but by re­sults. Here he has a trump card.

To the sur­prise of many, Labour signed the Com­pre­hen­sive and Pro­gres­sive Trans Pa­cific Part­ner­ship (CPTPP) in March, ef­fec­tively the TPP with a longer name and slight mod­i­fi­ca­tion.

Yet where pro­test­ers blocked mo­tor­ways when National signed the TPP, in 2018 the heat has gone out of the is­sue.

But only in New Zealand. In Europe, Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions con­tinue, while China and the United States are in the early stages of a trade war.

‘‘There’s an anti-trade, pro­tec­tion­ist flavour in the world. That is on the rise and yet in New Zealand, we’ve man­aged to com­bat that,’’ Parker said. The an­swer was be­ing open with peo­ple.

‘‘I would sug­gest that through how we’ve been han­dling these is­sues in an open dis­cus­sion with the pub­lic, and I do meet­ings up and down the coun­try on these is­sues, we’ve re­built pub­lic sup­port for trade.’’

For­mer National min­is­ters had ne­glected pub­lic opin­ion in favour of trips around the globe. Where Parker now takes around one over­seas trip a month, pre­vi­ous National trade min­is­ters were of­ten rare sight­ings in Par­lia­ment.

‘‘I re­ject the as­ser­tion that, some­how, not enough ef­fort is be­ing put in there . . . I’m do­ing all that needs to be done,’’ Parker said.

‘‘Some­times if you want to pre­serve con­sen­sus with trade, you’ve got to sell it at home, rather than just swan around over­seas.’’

Parker has just launched a new con­sul­ta­tion on trade pol­icy, which will be ‘‘pro­gres­sive and in­clu­sive’’.

How much of it is con­sul­ta­tion and how much is an ed­u­ca­tion cam­paign is yet to be seen.

‘‘Some­times if you want to pre­serve con­sen­sus with trade, you’ve got to sell it at home, rather than just swan around over­seas.’’

Trade Min­is­ter David Parker

Parker is ve­he­mently in favour of trade. ‘‘We’re ab­so­lutely clear that New Zealand ben­e­fits from trade; we’re a trad­ing na­tion,’’ he said. ‘‘We need to trade with the world in or­der to sell our goods and ser­vices to the world, in or­der to have the stan­dard of liv­ing that we want at home.’’

Con­sul­ta­tions will ‘‘push against’’ the idea that not ev­ery­one ben­e­fits from trade, Parker said.

‘‘There is a per­cep­tion that trade is for the ben­e­fit of large multi­na­tion­als. It is true that multi­na­tion­als ben­e­fit from trade, but it’s also true that ev­ery­one that’s in­volved in sup­ply chains, whether it’s the freez­ing worker or the farm owner, also ben­e­fits from trade.’’

So what dif­fer­ence will the con­sul­ta­tion make? Parker is pre­par­ing to ap­point a panel, which will be at least partly in­de­pen­dent of the Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs and Trade, as part of an out­reach pro­gramme.

A Cabi­net pa­per said the trade agenda sought a ‘‘gen­uine and en­dur­ing con­ver­sa­tion’’, in­clud­ing how trade pol­icy could help com­bat global is­sues from cli­mate change to gen­der equity and in­dige­nous rights.

New Zealand has used trade ne­go­ti­a­tions in the past to push its values. Cur­rent ne­go­ti­a­tions are said to in­clude the global is­sues which Parker now says he wants to build sup­port for.

But the Cabi­net pa­per ac­knowl­edges some trad­ing part­ners ‘‘might be scep­ti­cal’’ about the pol­icy. Will New Zealand re­ally lec­ture the Chi­nese as it seeks bet­ter trade terms?

‘‘In­ter­na­tional agree­ments in­volve ne­go­ti­a­tion,’’ Parker said. ‘‘We’re al­ways ad­vo­cat­ing for the things that we be­lieve in, we don’t al­ways get ev­ery­thing we want in any ne­go­ti­a­tion, we make progress.’’

It seems un­likely that any­thing from the trade pol­icy will rep­re­sent a ‘bot­tom line’.

‘‘That’s for the Gov­ern­ment. We’re con­sult­ing with peo­ple. That doesn’t mean to say that we’re go­ing to agree with ev­ery­thing that some peo­ple tell us.’’

National’s McClay said Parker was a ca­pa­ble man, but ques­tioned the new Gov­ern­ment’s pri­or­i­ties when New Zealand was at­tempt­ing to up­grade its ground­break­ing 2008 free trade deal with China.

‘‘I’m guess­ing that the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment will have no­ticed that no one from the new Gov­ern­ment has vis­ited them when we’re go­ing through an up­grade of one of our most im­por­tant trade agree­ments.’’

McClay ar­gued National left the trade deal pipe­line full, with progress towards deals with the UK and Europe al­ready under way be­fore the elec­tion, as well as a lead­ing role in breath­ing life into the TPP when the US pulled out. The re­cent change in the pub­lic mood was ‘‘less that David Parker is stay­ing at home build­ing con­sen­sus for trade, it’s more he’s stopped protest­ing against it’’.

While New Zealand had a dis­pro­por­tion­ate voice when it came to free trade, that sta­tus could eas­ily be lost, McClay said. ‘‘No­body owes us a liv­ing and New Zealand can be for­got­ten fairly quickly be­cause ev­ery­body wants to do the deals that we’re in­volved in.’’

PHOTO: AP

David Parker, sec­ond from left, at the sign­ing in San­ti­ago of the CPTPP. Parker says the ab­sence of protest in New Zealand shows Labour has built a con­sen­sus on trade.

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