In the three weeks since US President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of the United States from a trans-Pacific trade deal, Trade Minister Todd McClay has visited Australia, Singapore and Japan to talk with counterparts and today he leaves for Mexico.

The consultations are building towards a trade ministers' meeting in Chile next month to which China, South Korea and Colombia, countries outside the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), have also been invited.

According to McClay it is too early to sign the death certificate of the TPP minus the United States, which would make it an 11-party deal.

"If there are a critical mass of TPP signatories who think it is worth moving ahead, there will be possibilities there.


"So far in all of my conversations, I haven't had any direct suggestion that countries believe it is finished and time to walk away."

Japan and New Zealand's Parliaments have both passed all law changes required under the TPP, a 12-country pact that was launched in 2008 and took six years to negotiate.

The gross domestic product (GDP) of the 12 countries was $US27.5 trillion ($38.2t) in 2013. Without the US the GDP is US$11t.

The United States has been invited to the Chile meeting but it is not yet clear if it will attend. Trump's nominated trade representative, Robert Lighthizer, has not yet been confirmed.

McClay said he expected the ministers in Chile to commission work on TPP options and then to discuss them some months after that.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a press conference with Trump in Washington at the weekend that the purpose of TPP was to create a free and fair common set of rules for the free trade regime in the region and that importance had not changed.

US President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minster Shinzo Abe held a joint press conference in the East Room of the White House. Photo / Getty
US President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minster Shinzo Abe held a joint press conference in the East Room of the White House. Photo / Getty

McClay says three issues will be on his agenda in Mexico: the future of TPP; a bilateral deal proposed by Mexico; and possible membership by New Zealand of the Pacific Alliance.

New Zealand has been knocking at the door of the Pacific Alliance for several years and is setting up an embassy in Bogota as bilateral ties expand.


Quite apart from the TPP upheavals, the trade agenda this year has already been busy for McClay, with a trip to Brussels with new Prime Minister Bill English; a trip to Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates to discuss a deal that has been sitting on the shelf since 2009; and talks at the World Economic Forum in Davos with the India Trade Minister and Sri Lankan Prime Minister Rani Wickremesinghe to explore possibilities.

"They might just be bilateral but my instinct tells me that both sides would be interested in finding a few other like-minded countries that may also be involved."

Sri Lanka is at present doing a deal with Singapore, New Zealand's closest trade ally in Asia.

"The trade agenda is not going to stop because of any one country and for some parts of the world where there is less opportunity, new ones will spring up."

There was a flurry of activity at the end of last year as well with a trade mission to Iran, the first for 20 years, and an agreement by China at Apec in November to review the free trade agreement (FTA) signed in 2008.

Singapore is one of New Zealand's closest trading partners. Photo / 123rf
Singapore is one of New Zealand's closest trading partners. Photo / 123rf

The emphasis would be on non-tariff barriers, McClay said, for example, those that affected the wood processing industry.

"They already have full liberalisation of wood products but the recognition standards are not in place for them to access the markets."

Soft wood was not used in China so it did not have standards to apply.

McClay invited Labour's trade spokesman, David Clark, on the trade mission to Iran and he hoped to do more in the bipartisan space.



A large FTA involving Asean's 10 countries plus six others: China, Japan, India, South Korea, New Zealand and Australia but less ambitious than TPP. Launched 2012 and could be concluded this year.

Negotiations were launched in April 2010 with the heavily protected country but ground to a halt two years ago. Then-Prime Minister John Key's visit last October led to a stated commitment by India to carry on.

The deal was concluded in 2009 with the six countries of the GCC but has not been signed, reportedly because of resistance from Saudi Arabia. Movement is expected this year.

The EU decided in late 2015 to include New Zealand among its next group trade deals but has been consulting member countries since then (27 without UK). Talks are expected to begin this year, and take about three years to conclude - before further consultation.

The UK has agreed to negotiate a bilateral FTA with New Zealand but only after its exit from the European Union which could be some years away. In the meantime, the UK and NZ will hold a formal trade policy dialogue every six months.

Negotiations began in 2010 in the Russia-Belarus-Kazakhstan Customs Union and were all but concluded when they were suspended when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.

An upgrade on the 2001 Pacer agreement among the 16 Pacific Islands Forum countries. Negotiation started in 2009 and is close to being concluded.

New Zealand is making concerted efforts to join the free trade alliance of Mexico, Colombia, Peru and Chile.

Todd McClay and the Sri Lankan Prime Minister agreed at Davos to get work done on options that could lead to a bilateral FTA or a regional one.

Leaders agreed in November 2016 to enter negotiations to upgrade the FTA signed in 2008 with an emphasis on looking at non-tariff barriers. The first meeting has yet to take place.



- 1983


- 2001


- 2005


- Singapore, Brunei, Chile 2006


- 2008


- 2010

Hong Kong

- 2011


- Asean with NZ and Australia - 2012


- 2013

South Korea

- 2015