19 Jun 2016

RCEP faces TPPA-like issues - law lecturer

4:47 pm on 19 June 2016

A proposed trade agreement aimed at boosting New Zealand's presence in Asia has been criticised as having many of the same problems as the Trans Pacific Partnership.

Talks on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) were held in Auckland this week.

Talks on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) were held in Auckland this week. Photo: RNZ / Patrick O'Meara

The 13th round of discussions on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership concluded in Auckland yesterday.

The deal would see mutual trade regulations established between New Zealand and 15 other countries, including Japan and India.

New Zealand Trade Minister Todd McClay had urged negotiators to press ahead and put their countries offers to open up markets on the table.

He said there had been good progress on some issues but much more needed to be done if the partnership was to be finalised this year.

Mr McClay said New Zealand would not sign up to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) unless there were tangible benefits for it, and he urged negotiators to be more adventurous and ambitious.

"For New Zealand to be interested in a deal we need to see a lot more liberalisation and some of the offers around better goods access increase from all countries."

Commentators doubted agreement could be reached this year however, with the final round of negotiations for the year to take place in Laos in September.

But University of Auckland law professor Jane Kelsey said the deal was a "Chinese-led TPPA", which shared many of the same weaknesses.

"The TPPA was deeply unpopular the way it tied the hands of government," she said.

"RCEP is the China-led alternative, it has many of the same bad features. It is no less palatable to be pushed into this kind of deal than it was for the TPPA and the government needs to hear that message."

Ms Kelsey said the agreement's goal was to improve trade relations with India, but the Indian government did not appear willing to make the wanted concessions.

However, proponents of the deal argued it would link New Zealand to major Asian economies.

The 16 countries involved constitute 3 billion people, and have a combined national output of $23 trillion.

New Zealand International Business Forum executive director Stephen Jacobi said RCEP would give New Zealand an important foothold in India.

"RCEP provides a way to link New Zealand with the major economies of the Asian region. And in particular, the economy of India, which we don't have an FTA [Free Trade Agreement]. It provides a better environment for our trade and investment and it also encourages movement on the TPPA, which is the other big deal that we've been working on."

Mr Jacobi said the government should continue to open public discussion on the trade agreement.

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