TPP trade agreement passes with 11 member states

While saying it is possible for the US to 'dock back in' to the TPP, the remaining 11 nations have announced that they will proceed with signing the multilateral trade agreement in March.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP 11) trade agreement has passed with its 11 remaining member nations despite the withdrawal of the United States a year ago, and will be signed in Chile in March, according to Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

"We stuck with the TPP. There have been some hills and hollows and some twists and turns along the way since the APEC meeting in Lima in 2016, after it was known that President Trump would pull out," Turnbull told media on Wednesday.

"A quarter of our exports go to the countries of the TPP 11, including Japan, Canada, Mexico, Malaysia, Singapore, and others. It is a big deal. A big trade deal at a time when many people said it couldn't be done, after the United States pulled out.

"So it's a great outcome. It will mean billions of additional exports and thousands of additional jobs."

The deal is yet to be made public as it is "undergoing a legal review and translation", but will improve export opportunities for local companies and therefore add jobs in Australia, according to a joint press release by Prime Minister Turnbull and Trade Minister Steven Ciobo.

"The TPP will eliminate more than 98 percent of tariffs in a trade zone with a combined GDP of $13.7 trillion. The agreement will deliver 18 new free trade agreements between the TPP parties," Turnbull and Ciobo said.

"For Australia, that means new trade agreements with Canada and Mexico and greater market access to Japan, Chile, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Brunei."

Turnbull added that while he would encourage the US to rejoin the TPP, he doesn't see "any prospect of that".

"It's important to recognise that President Trump made a very straightforward, a very committed election promise not to proceed with the TPP," the Australian prime minister said.

"The way the agreement is structured is so that the Americans can effectively, America can dock back in, which is obviously what everyone would hope for at some point in the future."

With South Korea, Thailand, and Indonesia also having shown "strong interest" in the TPP, Turnbull said he is hopeful that other nations will additionally join the trade pact in future.

"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. So we hope the TPP 11 becomes bigger over time," he told media.

"But at this stage, what we've been able to do is to conclude the negotiations on the TPP 11 and it will go forward, as you've seen, including with the support of Canada -- and Prime Minister Trudeau has confirmed that -- and the signing is planned for March in Chile."

Trudeau's confirmation of the TPP being signed follows a spokesperson for Canadian Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne saying that Canada's government had been holding out during talks this week in Tokyo on protecting the copyright of its intellectual property, and on automotive manufacturing rules.

Similar to Canada's intellectual property concerns, an Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) committee had last year pointed towards the TPP's "troubling" provisions that would have the effect of locking in Australia's intellectual property regime.

This also followed concerns from Australia's copyright industry, and issues with "ambiguity" in the data protection provisions.

The original 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 announcement that it will be signed in March follows Australia, Japan, and Mexico continually pushing for the agreement to go through, with Turnbull in February 2017 reiterating his commitment to salvaging parts of the TPP after preliminary talks with New Zealand, Mexico, Japan, Singapore, and Malaysia.

The TPP signatory nations in May agreed to examine moving forward with the trade deal without the US, with TPP 11 reaching a basic agreement in November.

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 had said they would instead consider Chinese-led multilateral trade deals such as the RCEP.

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