The United States formally withdrew from the TPPA in January 2017, killing the agreement.  There is now a dangerous possibility that an agreement based on the TPPA will go ahead without the US.

When it first became obvious that the US was going to pull out of the TPPA, there was some discussion from the remaining countries about a new agreement going ahead without the US.  The idea was initially widely dismissed, not least of which by Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, who described such an agreement as “meaningless“.

From a New Zealand perspective, it is easy to understand why this is the case.  The  whole point of the TPPA, according to its New Zealand backers,  was to gain access to heavily protected US markets.  As it happened, we achieved only limited improvements in dairy access to the US, and the overall economic economic benefits were seen to be marginal.  In the end, the losses for the New Zealand public far outweighed the benefit the economic benefit.  If an agreement based on the TPPA goes through without the United States, New Zealand will have sold out its sovereignty without the benefit of (limited) increases in US market access.  As Professor Kelsey has written:

“The economic modelling the government relied on to sell the TPPA last year had zero credibility and failed to account for the costs. Take the US out of that equation and any attempt to pitch the agreement as having net benefits to New Zealand is risible.”

If the TPPA made no sense with the United States involved, it makes even less sense without them.

Despite this, the prospect of a TPPA without the US (“TPPA-1”) is gaining ground in light of the surprise 180 degree turn by Japan, who are now pushing for the agreement. Senior trade officials from the TPPA-1 countries met in early April, followed by a full Ministerial meeting on the sidelines of the APEC conference in Manila later in the month.  At the conclusion of that meeting the TPPA-1 countries issued a statement recording that they would begin working towards an agreement based on the TPPA in advance of a further ministerial meeting in November 2017.

New Zealand is reportedly pushing hard for a TPPA-1 without any amendments to the original TPPA document in the hope that this will make it easier for the US to return to the agreement.  Bill English recently stated that:

“The indications are there’s a collective interest in maintaining the agreement in a way that the US could sign up to in the future.”

Unfortunately for the Prime Minister, and fortunately for other New Zealanders, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer was blunt in his assertion after the Manila meeting that “the United States pulled out of the TPP and it’s not going to change that decision.”

Whether or not the TPPA-1 is a viable possibility remains to be seen.  What is certain is that that the TPPA-1 will be an issue in the upcoming New Zealand general election.  While the National Party are pig-headedly pursuing a Zombie TPPA, the the Labour Party has yet to make its position clear.