US involvement in TPP confirmed
Following months of uncertainty about the Obama Administration’s position on the Trans Pacific Partnership
, President Obama confirmed on 14 November that the US would engage “with the Trans-pacific Partnership countries with the goal of shaping a regional agreement that will have broad-based membership and the high standards worthy of a 21st
century trade agreement.” US officials have confirmed that while there are processes to be worked through with Congress, the President’s words should be interpreted as a commitment to US involvement in negotiations to join the TPP with existing partners – Chile Singapore, Brunei and New Zealand - and other new entries, Australia and Peru, with Viet Nam as an observer.
This is tremendous news providing a vehicle through which New Zealand can negotiate freer trade with the United States and build a comprehensive Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP). It is also a vindication of the efforts over the past year of the NZUS and USNZ Councils, alongside Government, to encourage the Administration to confirm its participation and our wider efforts to strengthen New Zealand’s relationship with the United States.
Members will recall that the former US Trade Representative Susan Schwab first announced that the United States would negotiate to join the TPP in September last year. This was followed by decisions on the part of Australia and Peru to join the negotiations in November 2008 and to Viet Nam expressing interest in observing the negotiations shortly thereafter. The incoming Obama Administration requested a deferral of the first round of negotiations in March to allow the new Administration time to review its wider trade policy. Advice coming out of Washington throughout the year suggested continued US involvement was far from certain. Senior members of the Administration were understood to see value in the TPP, but domestic political preoccupations and increased protectionist sentiment as a result of the global economic crisis posed real impediments.
Within this environment, the NZUS Council continued to roll out our “Time is Now” strategy in support of TPP. We made a detailed submission to the Government on what we thought should be included in the agreement. We worked closely with the Government here and with the USNZ Council in Washington to highlight the benefits of US involvement in TPP to members of Congress, US officials and senior members of the Administration. We kept our partners informed of developments and intervened from time to time in the public debate to ensure focus on the potential of TPP was not overlooked. TPP was also a key focus during the USNZ Partnership Forum in October.
I extend the Council’s congratulations to the Government and Opposition who have continued to work in a bipartisan fashion to maximize the chances of securing US involvement in TPP. I also thank our members who have continued to support our activities both financially and personally particularly over the past year when economic pressures have been great for very many businesses. We remain grateful to those friends and supporters in the United States including members of the Friends of New Zealand Congressional Caucus, the USNZ Council, the US Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and others who have come out in support of TPP.
As we head towards 2010 the Council’s big challenge will be to support the negotiations as much as we are able. We will review our existing “Time is Now” strategy in consultation with government, business and our partners in Washington with the aim of ensuring the best possible outcome. Implementation of this strategy will be a major focus for the Council over the next two to three years. Our TPP Coordinating Committee will work closely with government and the Council will ensure members are well briefed as the process advances.
Third US NZ Partnership Forum
The third USNZ Partnership Forum held in Washington DC from 6 – 8 October was an outstanding success and a real highlight of the past year. A very high level delegation of 55 traveled to Washington and engaged in detailed, frank and robust discussions with an impressive delegation from the US. Senior government representatives were involved on both sides including the US Secretary of Agriculture, US Trade Representative, Deputy Secretary of State and Deputy Trade Representative together with our Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Leader of the Opposition. I would like to extend particular thanks to USNZ Council President, John Mullen, for the huge effort he made to organize this year’s Partnership Forum with the able assistance of New Zealand intern Sasha Maher and also to Ambassador Roy Ferguson and his team at the New Zealand Embassy.
The Forum discussed both security as well as economic and trade related issues and agreed that a further Partnership Forum should be held in New Zealand in Early 2011. The Council will work closely with the USNZ Council in Washington to plan for the 2011 event – this will be another major focus of work over the next 12 – 18 months. We will need to encourage the strongest possible US delegation to travel to New Zealand and to develop a theme and programme that is timely, relevant, and valuable for participants and allows us to further strengthen NZ US links.
Visits to the US by Council office-holders during the year helped us to plan the Partnership Forum, engage with key allies in the American business community and support the activities of the US NZ Council and the New Zealand Embassy. The Council’s Executive Director visited Washington in September 2008 and the Associate Director visited Washington in May 2009 to engage in discussions on TPP and help plan the Partnership Forum. The Council sponsored a visit to Washington in July by the Co-chairs of the NZUS Parliamentary Friendship Group, Hon Shane Jones and Craig Foss, and the re-launch of the Group at a function in the Grand Hall of Parliament in August. I was in Washington for the Partnership Forum in October together with our Executive and Associate Directors. We thank Air New Zealand for their generous support is assisting with travel for these visits.
The Board continued to meet four times a year and I am grateful to my colleagues for their support. During the year we said farewell to Phil Turner and welcomed first Ken Geard and then Malcolm Bailey as Fonterra’s representative. We also said farewell to Nick Main and welcomed Murray Jack as Deloitte’s representative. Jonathan Kings was also farewelled and replaced by Jack Stephens as NZTE’s representative and we welcomed Fiona Cooper Clarke to the Board. We continue to value the involvement of all members of our Advisory Board and thank the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade for its continuing funding and the NZ Embassy in Washington for its valuable assistance.
Despite the tough economic climate, the Board has been able to secure renewed sponsorship from many of our existing supporters. For this we are very grateful. The Council continues to operate as a virtual organization with minimal infrastructure and overheads. Our executive, Stephen Jacobi and Gabrielle Rush, are retained on a consultancy basis and we are fortunate to be able to benefit from their expert advice and guidance. A high level of public advocacy of the relationship has been maintained through regular press articles and speeches and through our informative website (www.nzuscouncil.com
The Year Ahead
We look forward to welcoming the new US Ambassador to New Zealand, David Huebner in the not too distant future; to provide support for high-level visits expected to take place over the next twelve months; to support TPP negotiations and to prepare for the fourth Partnership Forum in 2011.
I believe that at this point in time the Council’s credibility and standing has never been higher. This is due to our successful advocacy of the relationship over many years, our strong communications platform, our wide support in the business community and the close relationships with officials and allies in both countries as well as the deliberate and professional way we implement our strategy. This will serve us well as we engage with new political leadership in both countries and work towards bringing the Trans Pacific negotiation to a successful conclusion.
Rt Hon James Bolger ONZ
Trans Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement (‘TPP”).