CRITICS are scrutinising the Trans-Pacific Partnership’s (TPP) negotiated text after thousands of documents were released by Federal Trade and Investment Minister Andrew Robb last week.
Last month the TPP negotiations were finalised in Atlanta by lead negotiators from the 12 countries involved, including some of Australia’s key agricultural export trading partners like the US and Japan.
At the time, Mr Robb said the TPP represented the biggest trade deal of its kind in 20-years and would eliminate about 98 per cent of tariffs on key Australian exports like beef, dairy, wine, sugar, rice, horticulture and seafood.
It will also establish a more seamless trade and investment environment across the 12 Pacific Rim countries which represent around 40 per cent of global GDP, he said.
Mr Robb said the TPP text contained 6000 pages of information in 30 chapters and was released to begin the process of public scrutiny.
“This text has been put out in record time in order to give as many interested parties as possible, the opportunity to pore through it and satisfy themselves that what we’ve said was the outcome, truly is the outcome,” he said.
“Then we will sign it, and then it will go back to all of the countries, possibly in the first half of next year, to be ratified.”
Mr Robb responded to concerns raised by critics about the TPP’s environment chapter not containing enough detail and climate change not being mentioned, warning critics should not be too quick to judge.
He said the TPP was not a climate change policy or an agreement to do with climate change.
“It’s a trade agreement which looks at issues relating to trade that can affect public policy in the environmental area,” he said.
“Now it’s very explicit on those issues, it does provide the best safeguards that have ever been provided in any agreement, in this regard.
“I was a bit disappointed that 6000 pages hit the table last night (Thursday night) at 6 o’clock and literally within 20 minutes there were predictable people ringing media outlets across the country giving so called expert advice.
“(But) they’d had no opportunity to study the document and they don’t do themselves any justice, much less the rest of the population, by jumping at shadows and peddling lines they’ve been peddling for years without having a decent look at what’s been negotiated.”
Mr Robb said Australia had been at the forefront of tackling the issue of Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanisms not being “used and abused” by groups in other countries to litigate against particular countries.
“We have been successful in leading the charge in getting significant carve-outs which preclude public policy in environmental areas from being subject to litigation,” he said.
“It will deliver substantial benefits for Australia in the rapidly growing Asia Pacific region, which includes a rising middle class.”
Shadow Trade Minister Penny Wong welcomed the TPP text being released, saying the trade deal had the potential to deliver more jobs for Australian workers and new opportunities for Australian export businesses.
But she said Labor would now scrutinise the text to ensure it lives up to the “extensive claims” made by Malcolm Turnbull and Mr Robb.
“Former Prime Minister John Howard refused to include ISDS provisions in the Australia-US Free Trade Agreement. Andrew Robb should have followed his lead and rejected the inclusion of ISDS provisions in the TPP,” she said.
Australian Greens trade spokesperson and Tasmanian Senator Peter Whish-Wilson, said text TPP had “finally been released” to allow scrutiny “but only after it is too late to change any of it”.
He said the Greens were standing against the China-Australia trade agreement because it gives rights to companies to sue our governments and would also stand against the TPP.
The Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) said release of the TPP’s text was an important step in finalising a significant trade deal for Australia’s $118 billion food and grocery sector.
AFGC CEO Gary Dawson said the TPP covered five of Australia’s top 10 export markets for food and beverages and would build on earlier trade agreements including with the US, Japan, Malaysia and Singapore.
“The economic weight of the TPP and common set of rules established among 12 countries will greatly support Australian food exporters’ participation in regional and global supply chains,” he said.
Supporting fact sheets were also released with the TPP text, to support a deal Mr Robb said would bring broad benefits to Australian businesses, farmers, manufacturers and “world-class service providers”.
“Along with the landmark North Asian bilateral trade agreements we have concluded with China, Japan and South Korea, the TPP forms a transformational series of agreements that will contribute substantially to the diversification of our economy in this critical post mining boom phase,” he said.
“This will reduce our reliance on any one sector or any one market, regardless of how strong they are.”
Mr Robb said the legal review and official translation of the TPP hasn’t been finalised and several side letters concluded by Australia as part of the negotiations, would be made available to the public, once finalised.
He said each of the 12 TPP countries would follow their own domestic treaty-making processes which for Australia meant the TPP text and National Interest Analysis being tabled in Parliament for 20 joint sitting days.
The Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCOT) will also conduct an inquiry into the TPP and report back to Parliament.
TPP text and related documents: www.dfat.gov.au/trade/agreements/tpp/official-documents/Pages/official-documents.aspx