With the Trans-Pacific Partnership due to be signed in Auckland on Thursday, political editor Audrey Young plots its evolution.

John Key has added a new sales pitch to the TPP, which will be signed on Thursday, saying it had been 25 years in the making.

The Prime Minister 25 years ago, Jim Bolger, saw a trade deal with the United States as a way of helping to repair the relationship in the wake of the anti-nuclear laws, as well as boosting the economy.

The US was not so forgiving and it would be a long time before that relationship was repaired, or New Zealand given any consideration on trade liberalisation.

Certainly the Trans Pacific Partnership has no shortage of people or places with a legitimate claim to being a parent and incubator.


And it has an impressive set of venues that have some claim to either its origins or host to its negotiations. Among them are: Cairns, New York, and Lima in pre-negotiation phases, and negotiations: Melbourne, San Francisco, Brunei, Auckland, Santiago, Singapore, Ho Chi Minh City, Chicago, Kuala Lumpur, Dallas, San Diego, Salt Lake City, Sydney, Hawaii, and finally Atlanta where it was finalised last October.

Former Labour Trade Minister Phil Goff, who has been given approval to support the deal, contrary to his party's position, was in New York in 2008 when the US announced it was going to join talks with four other countries, including New Zealand. At the time he emphasised its significance as the potential FTA with the US that New Zealand had been seeking for more than a decade.

He also said he had raised the idea with his US counterpart, Susan Schwab, the previous year.

New Zealand was anxious not to be left out for too long. By 2004, Australia had already signed its own bilateral free trade deal with the US, and had not wanted New Zealand to be part of that, despite the CER.

But the TPP's beginnings can be traced further back. Former Trade Minister Lockwood Smith gave a detailed account of the birth of the TPP in his valedictory speech in 2013 before leaving Parliament to become High Commissioner to London.

He credits his US counterpart at the time, Charlene Barshefsky, with the idea of a Trans Pacific deal among five countries, known as the P5 project: US, Chile, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore.

However, Barshefsky had to give it away because Congress was focused on China's accession to the World Trade Organisation.

However, Smith and his Singapore counterpart, George Yeo, decided to go ahead anyway and create a small agreement that others could join.


It worked. Brunei and Chile made the P4, then the US, while it wasn't ready in 1998, was ready in 2008 to have discussions over the P5.

A short time later Australia, Peru and Vietnam decided to join the talks, making it eight, then Malaysia, nine, then Canada and Mexico, 11, and then Japan, 12.

That is not the end, however: Indonesia has formally signalled it wants to join. South Korea wants to as well and Thailand, Taiwan, the Philippines and Columbia have expressed interest.