New Zealand negotiators are "holding our ground" in talks to conclude the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade and investment treaty with some improved access expected for dairy exports to the highly protected markets of North America and Japan, says Trade Minister Tim Groser.
He acknowledged that comments from Prime Minister John Key on Monday, that whatever deal was achieved would be "at least the very best we can do", had been interpreted as a sign of a poor deal on dairy in the offing, but told BusinessDesk "we're in anything other than capitulation mode".
It would, however, "not be a gold-plated deal".
"Basically, the situation is that I and my negotiators can see a very good deal for New Zealand in everything except dairy and I don't know to characterise the deal there because it's not a deal we could accept," said Groser.
The minister has yet to commit to attend a proposed new round of ministerial negotiations in Atlanta, Georgia, next week, although he is due in New York for climate change talks in the next few days.
"You might say 'well how can NZ hold out'?" he said. "Well, we are. We will try and get the absolute best possible deal. It will not be a gold-plated deal."
"Is there a better alternative? Successive governments have tried to do bilateral FTAs (free-trade agreements) with Canada, Japan, Mexico and the US for 30 years and have completely failed," said Groser. "With these four giant countries, it's this or nothing."
However, timing for a conclusion to the 12-nation pact may not be in the next fortnight.
"It depends whether negotiators are prepared to search for some genuine common ground rather than this game of chicken that's going on," Groser said. "I'm just not quite sure we'll get a deal in the next two weeks or the next two months. I'm suggesting to the prime minister we talk about before the end of the year."
"We've got to avoid slipping into next year and into the middle of the US presidential election campaign, where trade is such a difficult issue," he said.
While the success of any international negotiation could never be guaranteed, the amount of political capital invested in TPP by the 12 negotiating countries, and especially US president Barack Obama, and the existence of a "very mature text" meant a successful conclusion was a 90 percent likelihood.
"Landing zones are clear right across the text in all but three areas," said Groser, citing market access for automobiles and dairy, and patent extensions for biologic pharmaceuticals the outstanding areas.
Despite federal elections next month, he said "the Canadians are negotiating as if there's no election" and that "everyone is really trying."