10 Nov 2014

New trade deal on cards at APEC

4:55 pm on 10 November 2014

Another regional trade deal is being touted, this time covering the entire Asia-Pacific region.

Leaders at the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in Beijing have agreed to consider the first steps toward a Free Trade Area of the Pacific.

John Key welcomed on arrival.

Prime Minister John Key (centre) welcomed on arrival for the APEC summit. Photo: RNZ / Patrick Omeara

At China's urging, APEC's leaders have agreed to do a feasibility study on establishing a massive new free trade area in an area that has 3 billion people and accounts for 40 percent of global trade.

Reserve Bank Governor Alan Bollard.

Alan Bollard Photo: Reserve Bank of NZ

The controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations, involving New Zealand and 11 other countries including United States and Japan, but not China, remain deadlocked. Some analysts say the proposed new trade deal could undermine TPP talks, but others believed New Zealand stood to gain no matter what.

APEC secretariat executive director and former Reserve Bank of New Zealand governor Alan Bollard said it was the first step toward negotiations of the Free Trade Area of the Pacific (FTAAP).

"What we're looking at is the possibility of going beyond the TPP and the other trade agreement negotiations that are currently here to a bigger, longer term prospect of a free trade area for this whole region," he said.

Dr Bollard said it was more than just talk and the study would lay out just what a free trade area might look like, what the stepping stones would be and how long it would take to get there. The costs and benefits and the difficulties for different economies would also be considered.

Greens hope US plans stymied

The Green Party hoped the proposed new Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific would stymie economic ambitions of the US and hamper its plans for the TPP.

Russel Norman

Russel Norman Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

"Any trade agreement that involves China will probably have more protections around the rights of governments to legislate and so, for example, if you look at State-owned enterprises. The rules around State-owned enterprises, it's very hard to see that China would sign up to anything that's like is being proposed in the TPP.

"I would imagine in general that China would be pretty leery of the kind of investor state disputes provisions that the United States is pushing down everyone's throat at the moment," Dr Norman said.

Minister of Finance Bill English told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme today that a new Asia-Pacific trade deal would face the same issues as the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks.

"I would guess that it isn't going to be an easier path. It'll have to deal with all the same issues as TPP. It's another version of good news for New Zealand although we've been around long enough to be careful not to get over-enthusiastic about how easy these things are."

Labour's trade spokesperson Phil Goff welcomed moves to set up a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific, saying it was a good initiative as it would include the both United States and China.

"It would be better to have a free trade agreement that didn't separate the two largest economies in the world, but encompassed both of them, and allowed New Zealand to get free market access across the board to practically all of its major trading partners. That's what a free trade agreement for Asia-Pacific would do."

Mr Goff said the negotiations would be difficult, but it has been APEC's goal since 1994 to remove barriers to trade in the region.

Some analysts argue China's move to get another trade deal rolling will undermine the TPP, but International Business Forum executive director Stephen Jacobi was more optimistic, saying New Zealand is well placed.

"We in New Zealand are very well served by all of this and well positioned. We're in the good books with the Chinese and we support FTAAP, so this is good for us."

John Key at a breakfast meeting for New Zealand chief executives and youth delegates in Beijing.

John Key at a breakfast meeting for New Zealand chief executives and youth delegates in Beijing. Photo: RNZ / Patrick O'Meara

Warning TPP deal could be put on ice

New Zealand's Prime Minister John Key warned that the Trans Pacific Partnership deal could be put on ice if a deal was not struck in the next six months.

Mr Key and the 11 other leaders in the TPP would meet at the US embassy in Beijing today to discuss progress in the stalled talks. He would also attend the APEC leaders' dinner later.

Mr Key said it was important the momentum that has built up recently continues. However, the hurdles remained formidable.

The US and Japan remained at loggerheads over reducing trade barriers for agricultural goods, while China has revived a trade deal that covers the entire Asia-Pacific region.

However, John Key said the onus was on US President Barack Obama to get the talks over the line in the next six months, since he had two years left in his presidency. If not, he said it might be years before the deal was concluded.

"If President Obama is going to see TPP completed under his watch, then you'll need to see a positive outcome from the meeting today and momentum continued into the early new year. So really, I think there's about a six-month window."

Firms urged to push for deal

At a business breakfast in Beijing today, a prominent New Zealand businessman urged firms to get behind the Government's push for the trade deal. Over the weekend, thousands of New Zealanders protested about the controversial and secret TPP.

Sir Graeme Harrison, chairman of ANZCO Foods and the International Business Forum, told John Key that business is prepared to set up a fighting fund to help push the benefits of free trade. "We have to engage - like it or not. So we in business will be there to help and we'll put our hands in our pockets for a fighting fund because it's really necessary."

International Business Forum executive director Stephen Jacobi said he expected the TPP to continue into 2015.

"Someone asked me the other day what chance I thought there would be of a successful outcome and I'm still thinking 60:40. I think we have to be prepared for the fact that TPP might not work but there's plenty of momentum and reasons why it should."

APEC's leaders will have plenty to discuss outside of trade, including slowing global economic growth, conflict in the Ukraine and Middle East, maritime territorial disputes in Asia and the Ebola outbreak.

Northern Employers and Manufacturers Association chief executive Kim Campbell said the informal nature of APEC made it an ideal forum to bring countries together.

"It's got a whole lot of pretty unlikely bedfellows into the one room, and so conversations that previously might have been almost impossible are now taking place on a regular basis."

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