Sydney Morning Herald | 26 January 2018
How about showing us the TPP deal we’re about to sign?
by Peter Martin
What’s in the revised Trans-Pacific Partnership deal for Australia? There’s no way to tell until we’ve seen the text, and we won’t see it until after it’s signed, in Chile on March 8. Really. That’s the way things normally work.
After that, there’s still time to back out if we don’t want to ratify it, and there’s a precedent. All 12 would-be members signed up to the original Trans-Pacific Partnership in February 2016. Barack Obama found himself unable to get it through Congress and Donald Trump didn’t try.
As best as we can tell, the new deal, TPP-11, is the old one with fewer bad bits. Twenty of the most contentious provisions included at the insistence of the US have been "suspended" until the US decides to join. They include enforced protections for the owners of pharmaceutical patents and extensions to copyright law.
There’s no guarantee they would come back if the US did decide to join. Each of the 11 other members would have to agree.
Still in the agreement, although somewhat weakened, are the investor-state dispute settlement provisions insisted on by the US and Korea. They will allow private companies to sue national governments in extraterritorial tribunals, as Philip Morris did over Australia’s tobacco plain-packaging laws using the terms of an obscure Hong Kong investment agreement.
John Howard successfully resisted having them in the US-Australia agreement and the Abbott government managed to avoid them in the Australia-Japan agreement, but we have apparently agreed to them now, for Japan, Korea and eight other nations.
The upside is that our companies will also be able to sue governments.
The best guess as to what the trade and investment concessions do for Australia financially, from the respected Peterson Institute, is "not much". Australia’s national income would eventually be 0.5 per cent higher, a gain of less than half of one-tenth of a per cent per year.
The Productivity Commission wants to do the numbers itself, performing a proper cost-benefit analysis. Under Labor it would, for all future agreements. It’s hard to think of a good reason why it shouldn’t do it now.