Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has touted the benefits of trade, but warned its “social licence” must be rebuilt to the public to head off protectionist sentiment.
In a panel appearance at the Bloomberg Global Business Forum in New York on the issue of “the growing Euro-Asia alliance”, CNN’s Fareed Zakaria asked Ardern about the decision to push ahead on the CPTPP trade deal after US President Donald Trump withdrew his country upon taking office.
“It seems like one more example of countries trying to find a way to deal with the reality of a Trump administration that is at least in some ways trying to withdraw from features of US internationalism,” Zakaria said.
Ardern said the deal “is happening and it is working, it has continued on” regardless of the US position.
However, she said the “domestic realities” of trade could not be ignored, with the CPTPP posing challenges to New Zealand despite its status as an economy heavily reliant on exports.
Ardern said she was a progressive but “pro-free trade” – although she pushed back on a suggestion her government was taking a tough line on immigration, instead characterising it as being tough on exploitation of migrants.
“There was a real view amongst out domestic population that they weren’t necessarily being well served by trade deals in this current environment, and the lesson that we learnt through those negotiations was that we need to rebuild a social licence around our trade agreements.”
The Government was working to prove that trade deals could benefit SMEs, women and indigenous New Zealanders while also upholding labour and environmental standards.
Asked by Zakaria about her political beliefs, Ardern said she was a progressive but “pro-free trade” – although she pushed back on a suggestion her government was taking a tough line on immigration, instead characterising it as being tough on exploitation of migrants.
Trilateral trade push
Earlier, Ardern met with Chilean President Sebastián Piñera and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a “trilateral” meeting where all three leaders presented a united front on the benefits of trade.
Canada, Chile and New Zealand are all CPTPP members, and Ardern said the domestic difficulties many countries faced when trying to get the agreement across the line showed how many people felt disillusioned with trade.
“In New Zealand we’ve had the experience that globalisation, the opening up of trade, the reduction of barriers, hasn’t benefited everyone equally, and that means that trade, it could be said, has lost a bit of its social licence.”
Ardern said New Zealand was “absolutely committed to rebuilding” the mandate for trade, through its Trade for All agenda.
“Obviously it’s [trade] important for growth but it’s also important to make sure that…the benefits of that growth really reach everyone.”
“We’re out there asking New Zealanders what they want to see from future free trade agreements: we want to model what prosperous trade that benefits and creates a more inclusive society and lifts everyone up more generally, what it would look like.”
Trudeau said it had become clear to him that progressive leaders did not often talk about the importance of trade, including in setting labour standards, environmental protections, and improved support for indigenous people.”
“Obviously it’s important for growth but it’s also important to make sure that…the benefits of that growth really reach everyone.”
Piñera said governments needed to “prove and convince everyone that trade will be good for them”.
“Some people think they will be left out…we need to not only convince people…more trade and better trade will be to the benefit of all the groups, particularly those groups that are reluctant about trade, which in our country are small firms and native people.”
Ardern hinted at a future meeting between the three leaders or their countries’ representatives, saying there were “plans to do something more formal to really lock in this agenda that we share”.
Ardern’s government, including her Trade and Export Growth Minister David Parker, have been clear about their desire to put in work to avoid the protectionist sentiment dogging other parts of the world.
Following Trump’s UN speech, in which he appealed to sovereignty over globalism, Ardern said she agreed with some of the president’s concerns about the effects of globalisation but not in his prescription to cure it.
“It’s our job to make sure that we ensure our people benefit from trade; that we have prosperity for everyone. We can either choose to do that through isolationism or through multilateralism, a collective approach.”
Later Thursday morning (NZT), Ardern will speak at French President Emmanuel Macron’s One Planet summit, having earlier today participated in a high-level dialogue on climate change led by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.