Trade talks fail to clinch TPP - for now

7:02 am on 2 August 2015

Another TPP meeting, another failure to reach agreement.

Yet the words used to describe the negotiations did not, once again, talk of defeat.

Export New Zealand wants political parties to take a bi-partisan approach to free trade.

Protesters in New Zealand speak out against the TPP. Photo: RNZ / Rachel Graham

Instead, the joint statement by the TPP Ministers said: "We have made significant progress and will continue work on resolving a limited number of remaining issues, paving the way for the conclusion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations."

Yet the hurdles highlighted as sticking points going into the talks proved to be same issues holding up an agreement.

And as Trade Minister Tim Groser said, one of those is the main prize for New Zealand in these talks.

"You can see clearly that there are one or two really hard issues, and one of them is dairy."

But Mr Groser is nothing if not an optimist, expressing confidence there is a solution that will benefit New Zealand's dairy farmers and those in countries resistant to opening up their markets, like Canada and Japan.

It could be a tall order, particularly as time is running out for US President Barack Obama to seal a deal before the US is immersed in the 2016 presidential election.

Canada is about to go to the polls, and its dairy sector is influential politically. Its Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, may be in no mood to upset them too much.

Mr Groser admits total tariff removal is off the agenda, and he was no mood to give in in Hawaii.

The chairman of Dairy Companies Association of New Zealand, Malcolm Bailey, praised Mr Groser and his team for holding tough on ensuring a good outcome for New Zealand.

Yet Mr Groser's language continues to change.

He talks now about "commercially meaningful access". He refuses to define what that means, saying that's a matter to be discussed in the TPP talks.

And he and Prime Minister John Key insist the deal must be of net benefit to New Zealand.

Mr Groser points out that the failure, so far, to secure a decent deal for dairy should not obscure gains made for other agricultural goods.

Does that mean gains elsewhere will make up for higher drug prices and a less-than-favourable dairy deal?

That's unknown, as the TPP talks are, of course, secret.

Mr Groser says New Zealanders will be pleased when he can reveal how much better off they'll be once the TPP talks are concluded.

TPP opponent Auckland University law professor Jane Kelsey says it'll be too late by then.

She predicts New Zealand's dairy sector will not get meaningful access due to the political sensitivity in opening up these markets.

And she warns that any deal will come at a high cost to terms of national sovereignty, including a weakened Pharmac and higher drug prices, as well as foreign companies suing the Government over the right to legislate in the public interest.

Another TPP meeting is expected soon, perhaps by the end of August.

Once again, politicians, trade officials, industry groups, the media, unions, and other consumer and environmental organisations will be counting down to another deadline.

Every one has been missed since 2013.

Will the next one be any different?