Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

Top negotiator says treaty creates economic opportunity for NZ

David Walker says it's exciting to achieve real things for New Zealand.
David Walker says it's exciting to achieve real things for New Zealand.

No little boy or girl dreams of being a trade negotiator and David Walker, the official who led New Zealand's negotiating team in the Trans Pacific Partnership, was no exception.

He can't actually recall what he wanted to be as a teenager at Mairehau High School and Middleton Grange School in Christchurch except that he was mad on sports and classical music.

He shifted focus at university to economics and his path towards trade negotiation began.

Now 55, and a Deputy Secretary at Foreign Affairs, he joined the ministry armed with a PhD in the economics of regulation from Canterbury University.

Before specialising in trade, he had more regular diplomat postings such as serving as No2 at the embassy in Washington, when Jim Bolger was ambassador, and being New Zealand's trade representative at the World Trade Organisation in Geneva.

He was also the lead official when New Zealand hosted Apec in 1999, which was dominated by the outbreak of violence in East Timor.

The first trade deal for which he was chief negotiator was the P4, the predecessor to the TPP comprising New Zealand, Singapore, Brunei and Chile.

His first big one was the China deal in 2008, the first free trade agreement China had negotiated with an open economy.

While there were similarities between the China and TPP agreements, the China deal was less ambitious in trade in services than TPP, which also went further on intellectual property, and had more extensive treatment of labour and the environment.

"But in most respects we're dealing with a similar range of subject matter in both agreements."

The combination of having led the China negotiations and the TPP talks affords him the description of New Zealand's most successful trade negotiator.

The travel -- and he has seen the insides of hundreds of hotel rooms around the world -- "is not a particularly romantic part of the job".

Results are what motivates him.

"The exciting thing is to be able to achieve real things for New Zealand, to create economic opportunity for New Zealand and New Zealanders.

"That's what gets you up in the morning."

"Sometimes the process can be very frustrating. I would like to have gone further, particularly in the goods market liberalisation under TPP."

So what is his response to the claim that the TPP undermines New Zealand's sovereignty? "An international treaty to my mind, it's really sovereign countries coming together in the joint exercise of that sovereignty, deciding what they will do together, or what they agree not to do in concert with each other.

"And sometimes that is going to act as a constraint on individual action. That, in fact, is the purpose of the treaty-making process in the first place and that arises no matter what policy area the treaty is in respect of, whether it is an economic treaty or a security treaty or a human rights treaty."

He had learned the skills required of a negotiator through his experience at the ministry. "It's an amazing privilege and opportunity to get the experience to do that."

- NZ Herald

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