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SYDNEY: Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull today hailed the revival of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) as a boon for jobs, but critics questioned how much Australia would really gain from a deal that excludes the US.
After Canada yesterday agreed to rejoin 10 other nations in resurrecting the trade pact, Turnbull termed the deal a multi-billion-dollar trade windfall for Australia.
“It is a big deal,” the prime minister told reporters. “A big trade deal at a time when many people said it couldn't be done, after the United States pulled out, after President Trump was elected.”
“We are firmly of the view that a free and open Indo-Pacific, open markets, free trade, the rule of law, encouraging investment and trade through our region is manifestly in our national interest and in the interests of all of the countries in the region.”
In addition to Australia, the pact now known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership includes Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.
The agreement, expected to be formally ratified in Chile in March, will incorporate all commitments from the original TPP, except for a limited number of provisions suspended temporarily and some remaining issues to be finalised.
It means new bilateral agreements for Canberra with Canada and Mexico, as well as increased access for many Australian agricultural products to member states. The deal seeks to remove 98% of tariffs within the trade bloc.
The TPP looked doomed last year after President Donald Trump withdrew the US, dismaying allies but fulfilling an election pledge.
Australia's opposition Labor party said the new pact had lost its shine since the US withdrawal and the government had failed to specify how the country would benefit from it.
“This is a very different agreement because America's not in it,” shadow minister for trade Jason Clare told Sky News. “The original agreement involving the United States involved around 40% of the global economy. Without the US it's about 13%.”
Patricia Ranald, a senior research fellow at the University of Sydney, cautioned that a revived deal would deliver less than the government boasts.
Access to Canada and Mexico would be moderately beneficial but trade agreements were already in place with the other countries, “so the market access gains are at the margin”, she said.
Ranald has been critical of the pact, which she says allows corporations to bypass national courts and does too little to protect labour rights and migrant workers.
“I think the TPP has become a symbol of open markets, against the Trump unilateralism, but if you actually look at what is in the TPP it does reinforce monopolies which are the opposite of open markets,” she said.
“It really is about global corporations having a set of rules that suits them.”
Canada said on Tuesday it would sign onto the revised 11-member Asia-Pacific trade pact after pushing to secure a better deal, underpinning a government drive
to diversify exports amid doubts over North America Free Trade Agreement.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters at the World Economic Forum in Davos that he helped push for an improved deal, showing how important the trade file has become for him personally.
But a major labour union and a group representing auto parts manufacturers said the deal would cause job losses.
Trade officials signed off on a final text earlier in the day after a meeting in Tokyo to overcome challenges such as Canada's insistence on protection of its cultural industries.
The deal agreed to the suspension of intellectual property and investment dispute provisions that had been a concern. Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said the deal would also grant full access to Japan's auto market for the first time.
“Diversification is key for Canada … for us opening up markets is essential,” he told reporters in Toronto.
A previous round of talks last November ended in disarray after Canada objected to parts of the proposed text and Trudeau was lambasted for missing a key meeting with Japan's prime minister on how to secure a deal.
The breakthrough came on the same day that negotiators started the sixth and penultimate round of talks on Nafta, which US President Donald Trump has repeatedly threatened to abandon.
The Unifor private sector union and Canada's Automotive Parts Manufacturers Association complained Champagne had not warned them at meetings earlier this week that the deal was about to be agreed.
Unifor head Jerry Dias said that at a time when Canada is facing US demands at Nafta to increase the North American content of autos from the current 62.5%, the new TPP deal would allow the duty-free import of parts which contained a maximum of 35% of components from member nations.
This would allow the greater use of cheaper parts from Asian nations, causing havoc in the domestic industry, he added.
“The simple reality is what happened with the TPP completely undermined what's happening in Montreal over Nafta,” said Dias. “They have just cut the legs off of the entire Canadian negotiating team here on Nafta,” he told reporters.
The Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance welcomed the deal, saying it would help boost food exports to Japan. – Agencies