TPP may not be perfect for New Zealand, but being outside the pact is unthinkable.

I feel for the Labour Party as it angsts over whether to support the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Supporting trade deals has become extremely socially awkward.

Like a sensible pair of loose fit jeans, it definitely isn't cool these days.

It's not like it was back in 2008 when Helen Clark was signing the China Free Trade Agreement.


Maybe it's all Facebook's fault.

For the past year my Facebook feed has been a hotbed of anti-TPP posts and memes.

Some raise reasonable concerns about the cost of drugs or intellectual property law but others pitch the whole thing as if it is an attempt by the evil empire to secretly build a Death Star.

Helen Clark - brutally pragmatic on trade.
Helen Clark - brutally pragmatic on trade.

There will always be people who'll argue globalised trade is no good at all, despite the obvious benefits it brings to modern life.

But for the majority of concerned social media clickers, there just seems to be a lot of general ill-feeling about increasing corporate control over our lives. That's not unreasonable.

The global financial crisis destroyed wealth and exaggerated inequalities, the internet is disrupting the workplace and its encroachment on personal privacy worries people.

These are strange days. But then, aren't they always?

Is the world really that different for New Zealand now than it was in 2008?


Helen Clark, who as Prime Minister kicked off the trade talks that evolved into the TPP, doesn't seem to think so.

Last month she told New Zealand media in New York: "What always haunts a Prime Minister is: 'Will there be a series of trade blocs develop that you are not part of?' Because that is unthinkable for New Zealand as an export-oriented, small trading nation.

"So of course New Zealand has to be in on the action with the TPP and go for the very best deal it can."

Clark's words must seem brutally pragmatic to many of those still clinging to the notion that New Zealand should walk away from the TPP.

But her point seems to be that the bar for not signing up to this trade deal would have to be extremely high.

She was talking before the agreement was signed but one doubts the final text will have changed her stance.

It is hard to see any deal breaker in the detail so far which would justify New Zealand isolating itself from a trading block that represents 40 per cent of global GDP.

This is problematic for Labour if it remains opposed to this deal based on specific points of detail.

And this has raised the prospect that Labour may oppose it on ideological grounds.

That might seem a populist approach when it comes to Facebook clicks, but would put the party into serious conflict with the current realities of the New Zealand economy.

As a tiny country, New Zealand is considerably less well placed to go down an isolationist path than, say, the UK under a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour Government.

It would be an almost revolutionary position for a major political party to take here.

Vietnam - hardly an easy target for US imperialism - is set to sign the deal.

It would seem strange, I think, to see the New Zealand Labour Party taking a harder ideological stance than the Communist Party in Hanoi.

Another line of argument, an important one to be debated, is the TPP agreement doesn't deliver big enough gains for New Zealand.

Perhaps China was worth it because we got dairy in?

This tack certainly doesn't marry well with an ideological opposition.

In my view it also fails to overcome the far worse scenario of New Zealand being locked out of this deal altogether.

Movement on dairy was disappointing, but movement was made. A first step, however small, is actually a very important one.

It does seem that with regards to specific gains New Zealand only did okay, not great, on this deal.

But the specific downsides also look more muted than first feared.

There are real issues. Most glaring are the required changes to the Overseas Investment Act - although it looks like tax provisions would still allow future governments to take strong measures to restrict foreign buying if they choose.

And of course future governments could go much further than that. They could tear up the deal altogether. But they won't.

The biggest risk to the TPP becoming a reality is that the US Congress doesn't approve it.

That is still a possibility as the deal has powerful opponents there - the tobacco industry, big pharmaceutical companies and a populist presidential candidate with the worst hairdo in United States political history.

Barack Obama will be its champion.

He and Clark would both agree that the measure of good foreign policy should not be just whether it is good for one country but whether it is good for the world.

And there are much wider economic gains to be made if this deal delivers a boost to transpacific trade.

The global economy is desperately in need of a lift.

The US economic recovery is still spluttering and the most dynamic part of China's economic growth story is over.

We're still looking to central banks to perform miracles when - after seven years - it should be clear they just don't have magic powers to fix the malaise.

They can set the conditions for growth but real growth needs real wealth creation.

There are a number of ways humans create wealth, few in history have been more successful than trade.

And, on a per capita basis, few nations have been as successful at trading as New Zealand.

Why wouldn't we back ourselves to make the most of this opportunity?