The latest round of talks between the remaining 11 members of the reformed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) concluded in Japan this week, with a final agreement expected now to be signed in March.
Ministers from the likes of Australia, Canada and Japan confirmed that the talks had been positive and that the rebranded Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) is likely to conclude in March’s forum of ministers in Chile. The talks built on the progress made in November’s round of negotiations in Vietnam.
Toshimitsu Motegi, Japan’s economy minister, said that “11 countries aiming to forge a new Asia Pacific trade pact after the United States pulled out of an earlier version will hold a signing ceremony in Chile in March”.
Canada’s international trade minister, Francois-Philippe Champagne, said: “We are happy to confirm the achievement of a significant outcome on culture as well as an improved arrangement on autos with Japan, along with the suspension of many intellectual property provisions of concern to Canadian stakeholders.”
Australian trade minister Steve Ciobo said the nations were “finally at the finish line” and promised that “Aussie businesses will be the big winners”. This is counter to the thinking in economist circles. Australia, which already has free trade agreements (FTAs) with many of the TPP-11 is expected to make marginal gains, after the US bailed on the agreement last year.
“A general TPP is good in the sense that it is a freer trading market,” Alan Oster, chief economist at National Australia Bank, tells GTR. “What they’re trying to do with TPP-11, it means you go ahead without the US and allow it to come in post-Trump. For Australia, it’s not such a big deal, because for most of our Asian trading partners we have FTAs. So all you’re doing is opening other people up to the same advantage; the net effect on Australia is not much.”
The revamped CPTPP will see tariffs removed on many products and services across the member countries.
According to a recent report from the Asian Trade Centre, a lobby group, “the TPP also promotes efficient and transparent customs procedures to make it easier to move goods in and out of TPP countries. The agreement opens up nearly every single service and investment sector to TPP member firms. This includes important market access in areas not normally included in trade agreements.”
Yet, the agreement is not without its opponents. Critics in Australia and New Zealand have lobbied for the removal of investor rights that they argue allow corporations to sue governments for perceived lost investments. Infamously, this tenet was invoked by tobacco giant Philip Morris International when Australia introduced plain packaging for tobacco products.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that her government will continue to raise issues around the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) clauses when the agreement goes to the review stage.
“There are significant changes. Before we went into this, the ISDS clauses were much more broadly applied. We now have a suspension of those clauses for investor screening. We’ve made the kind of changes that mean this agreement is much more aligned with other FTAs we’ve signed up to,” she said, in response to criticism from her domestic coalition partners that she had not been tough enough on ISDS.
Meanwhile, a group of former senior trade officials welcomes progress with the CPTPP and has urged the bloc to admit other member states as soon as possible.
“Additional countries should be encouraged to join the agreement as soon as is practicable, particularly those that had expressed interest in the original TPP, such as South Korea. Non-APEC members, such as the United Kingdom and Colombia, are also worthy of consideration,” says Wendy Cutler, former acting US trade representative and currently vice-president of the Asia Society Policy Institute (ASPI).