During the next few weeks, the Government will try to sell the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal to New Zealanders.

It hopes material, including fact sheets from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade on different aspects of the agreement, will give convincing evidence that the pluses far outweigh the minuses and the country is far better off inside the TPP tent than outside it.

In that, it is likely to be disappointed. Most people will be more than aware that, like all public relations campaigns, this one will not reveal the full picture.

That will emerge only when the formal text of the TPP deal is made available.


This is due to be released within 30 days. The outer limit of that period is far too long to wait. The Government must place the text in front of New Zealanders as soon as possible.

Any delay will not only be unfair but is likely to backfire. The public relations campaign will anticipate areas of likely public concern, but that is no reason for not putting the text on the table.

Only when it is available can the message the Government is trying to put across be reasonably assessed and scepticism overcome.

By seeking to control the process through its programme of hard sell, the Government runs the risk of exacerbating the level of discontent.

It will also be flying in the face of reality. Inevitably, its approach will be undermined by leaks, some of them based on conjecture and misinformation.

This risks a re-run of doomsday scenarios such as the one during the lengthy negotiations that painted Pharmac as a definite casualty.

There will also be leaks of the text from other TPP members. Throughout the negotiations, representatives from countries such as the United States and Canada were noticeably more relaxed than their New Zealand counterparts about commenting on policy and progress.

That is not about to change.


The Government's determination to keep what was happening during the talks under wraps could now rebound on it. Secrecy has bred suspicion, and that is not likely to be readily overturned by a public relations push.

Trade Minister Tim Groser is likely to be disappointed if he believes the campaign will, by itself, puncture "the massive hot air balloon" floated by critics of the deal.

Already, many of these have said they will reserve their judgment on aspects of the deal, not least the administrative changes to Pharmac, market access, and the investor-state dispute provisions.

Their final verdict will be based not on what the Government says, but on the fine print of the agreement. That is a reasonable position. The devil in any deal is always in the detail.

By and large, the Government has a good tale to tell about the TPP agreement. For the few disappointments, especially dairy access to the United States, Canada and Japan, there are strong gains in other areas.

But the evidence of this will become fully apparent only when the formal text is available. New Zealanders, having been kept fairly much in the dark for so long, deserve that as soon as possible.