"Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon."
E.M. Forster, writing those words in 1910, could not have foreseen the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) but he hit the vital point.
New Zealand lives by its connections to overseas markets. Among developed nations, we're unique. We've got a tiny home market, a million miles from anywhere. Size and distance are big hurdles. The TPP needs to be judged on whether it leaps that chasm.
For New Zealand, the TPP is really about access to markets in five countries -- the United States, Japan, Mexico, Canada and Peru.
We already have free-trade agreements with everyone else at the table. But those five countries represent nearly a third of global economic activity.
Let's take the United States. New Zealand's total trade with the United States in 2014, imports and exports combined, excluding services, amounted to just US$8 billion ($12 billion). By comparison, Vietnam's was US$36 billion, Japan's US$201 billion and Canada's a whopping US$658 billion.
We can't supply the whole world with milk, or meat, or logs. We don't have enough cows, sheep or forests -- or people. But imagine if we could double our current share. The potential for growth from the "gold standard" trade agreement Prime Minister John Key and Trade Minister Tim Groser originally sought is huge.
Let's turn this point on its head. Our two main trading and investment partners are Australia and China. Closer Economic Relations (or CER) has been in place with Australia since 1983, with all tariffs and quantity restrictions removed by 1990. CER increased the effective size of our domestic market by a multiple of six. Without the access gained to the Australian market by CER, New Zealand would be a poorer place. Yet dairy was a problem even then, with Australia deferring cuts to its tariffs and a now long-gone side agreement requiring New Zealand to limit exports of cheddar and avoid exporting milk or cream except in the event of a shortfall in Australia.
The China free-trade agreement entered into force in October 2008. Back then, China was our fourth-largest trading partner, taking only $1.6 billion of New Zealand's merchandise exports and $1 billion of services. This year, we've exported $10.3 billion of goods and services to China -- 15 per cent of our total -- even after the slump in dairy prices.
New Zealand's negotiators had a tough hand but we have more to gain from TPP than most countries.
International connections bring scale, competition, investment and ideas.
Exporting businesses are productive businesses. Competition from imports pushes our firms to be more productive.
Of course, we haven't achieved that "gold standard". While the text of the TPP isn't public, Groser has been reported as saying "when you sense the bus is going to take off, you jump on board". His judgment is that New Zealand needs to be in the game.
It's clear that he sees the TPP as a net plus, and standing alone as a big minus.
While Fonterra's disappointment is plain to see, trade negotiations aren't for the faint-hearted. Our initial reading of the deal is that all sectors -- even dairy to a tiny extent -- have gained better market access.
Tariffs on New Zealand exports of fruit, vegetables, sheep meat, forest products, seafood, wine and industrial products will all be removed over time. The phased cut in beef tariffs by Japan from 38 per cent to 9 per cent could, over time, be a game-changer.
New Zealand's negotiators had a tough hand but we have more to gain from TPP than most countries. The highest tariffs on our goods, and so the deepest cuts, apply to primary products, around two-thirds of New Zealand's goods exports.
Once the TPP's fully phased in, tariffs will be eliminated on 93 per cent of our exports to the United States, Mexico, Japan, Canada and Peru. In return, we have few domestic tariffs to remove. That means, on current trade volumes alone, we'll see tariff savings of $259 million a year on exports, but lose only $20 million a year of our tariff income.
The agreement will also prevent the Government from banning TPP nationals from buying property in New Zealand
Looking behind the headlines, there will be costs, but these aren't massive.
Many protests concerned investor-state dispute settlement provisions. Can the Government be sued by aggrieved multinationals? We'll have to wait for the final text, but it looks like tobacco claims have been carved out. That means a tobacco company couldn't lodge a plain-packaging claim against the Government.
Pharmac's drug-buying processes will become more public. That carries a price tag but it's far better than dismantling a buying model which has served New Zealand well.
Perhaps the biggest irritant is intellectual property. Copyright after death is being extended from 50 to 70 years. It could be messy but it's not a deal-breaker to me.
The agreement will also prevent the Government from banning TPP nationals from buying property in New Zealand, although new taxes look like they'll be fine.
However tough some aspects of the deal may have been, the TPP is the largest regional trade accord in history. That's a real achievement.
Where to next? All 12 parties need to ratify the agreement.
There will be plenty of arguments along the way, particularly in the United States.
Supporters of the TPP in New Zealand should be prepared to stand up and be counted.
And the S-word? I'll leave secrecy to the courts.