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Australia ‘actively’ working on TPP with signatories

Australia is “actively” working on pushing through the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with the remaining 11 signatories, the federal government has said.

“The government is actively engaging with TPP signatories on pathways for giving effect to the TPP,” the Australian Government Response to the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade committee’s report on the proposed TPP agreement, published on Thursday, said.

The government rejected calls by both the Greens Party and independent Senator Nick Xenophon that it permanently end its involvement with the TPP, arguing that “Australia’s participation in the TPP is in the national interest.”

In response to criticisms about the secretive manner in which the TPP was negotiated, the committee had also recommended that Australia undertake further negotiations with its major trading partners prior to taking any binding treaty action on the TPP and “expedite widely supported reforms to the treaty-making process” to be less secretive.

While the government said that it has “an extensive program of outreach” and consultation for its free trade agreements, it said it will look into implementing further input in future.

“The government believes that Australia’s existing treaty-making system is working well, but the government will continue to explore new options for securing input from stakeholders and disseminating information on free trade agreements,” the government said, after “noting” the recommendation.

The Greens Party and Senator Xenophon similarly recommended that the current trade agreement process be amended to ensure greater transparency, such as allowing independent assessments and the opportunity for community consultation.

“Under the Constitution, the power for entering into treaties rests with the executive. Under Australia’s existing treaty-making system, the Parliament through the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties has the opportunity to review and make recommendations on treaties prior to the executive taking binding treaty action,” the government replied.

“The process requires all trade agreements to be tabled in Parliament with a national interest analysis, which includes a discussion of the foreseeable economic effects of the treaty action and any direct financial costs to Australia … statistical and methodological limitations mean that current models are unable to estimate the total impact of a free trade agreement on the economy.”

The TPP was signed in February 2016 by the United States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, Japan, Mexico, Peru, Brunei, and Chile; however, it was then dumped by President Donald Trump on his first week in office in favour of bilateral trade deals that promote Trump’s “America first” protectionist policy, despite warnings that he risked “abdicating” trade leadership in the Asia-Pacific region to China.

The TPP signatory nations in May then agreed to examine moving forward with the trade deal without the US.

TPP officials from each country will meet in Japan this month, before further discussing proposals in mid November in Da Nang, Vietnam.

“Ministers and vice ministers from Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Malaysia, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam met today to discuss the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” they said in a joint statement.

“The ministers agreed on the value of realising the TPP’s benefits, and to that end, they agreed to launch a process to assess options to bring the comprehensive, high-quality agreement into force expeditiously, including how to facilitate membership for the original signatories.”

This followed Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in February reiterating his commitment to salvaging parts of the TPP after preliminary talks with New Zealand, Mexico, Japan, Singapore, and Malaysia.

The TPP cannot legally progress without the US because of the way the trade deal was framed: It was negotiated under the condition that a minimum of six countries with a combined GDP of 85 percent of the 12 signatories must ratify it.

As the US accounts for 60 percent of the combined GDP, the TPP cannot come into effect without either changes being made to the conditions or another large economy, such as China, taking the US’ place.

While Turnbull had previously suggested that the TPP could be opened up to China, the Chinese government expressed unwillingness to join, instead favouring its own Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) deal, which is being negotiated between China, Australia, India, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, the Philippines, and Thailand.

At least half of the nations involved in the TPP have said they will instead consider Chinese-led multilateral trade deals such as the RCEP.

The RCEP’s protections of intellectual property are not as strong as those under the TPP, with the DFAT committee’s report into the trade agreement earlier this year pointing towards the TPP’s “troubling” provisions that would have the effect of locking in Australia’s intellectual property regime — following concerns from Australia’s copyright industry — and “ambiguity” in the data protection provisions, as well as a lack of independent economic analysis.

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