This report presents the results of the Committee’s inquiry into the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP).
The TPP is a plurilateral free trade agreement, with 12 signatories at present. The TPP is also complex, both in terms of the matters covered, and the procedures necessary to bring all 12 parties to some degree of commonality in international trade issues. Including side letters, the TPP runs to about 6,000 pages.
Given the complexity and length of the TPP, this Report does not purport to be an examination of all aspects of the Agreement. Rather, the Report focusses on the issues of most interest to the participants in the inquiry and examines these in detail.
The first Chapter of this Report establishes the grounds and objectives of the Committee’s inquiry, and discusses the evidence gathering process the Committee engaged in.
Chapter Two provides a general overview of the TPP, including the scope of the Agreement’s coverage, its current state of progress towards ratification, and a description of the matters covered by the Agreement.
In addition, Chapter Two briefly details the specific outcomes of the TPP, and the concessions Australia has been able to obtain through the TPP.
The TPP is a significant milestone in free trade, as it is the first time in 20 years that a comprehensive plurilateral agreement on free trade has been reached. The historical context of the TPP’s significance is examined in Chapter Three of the Report.
The Chapter also discusses the strategic aspects of the TPP, a matter that has generally been overlooked in public discourse in Australia.
Chapter Four of the Report discusses the public perception of the TPP in light of the number of submissions to the inquiry that opposed Australia ratifying the TPP.
The Chapter identifies four concerns common to the submissions opposed to ratification:
the modelled benefits of the TPP;
the Investor-State Dispute Settlement Provisions;
the cost of medicines; and
the temporary entry provisions for professionals.
Chapter Five discusses public engagement, one of two issues raised by participants in the inquiry that have general application to other free trade agreement negotiations. The Chapter considers two specific matters: the transparency of the negotiation process; and the modelling and measurement of the outcomes of free trade agreements.
The second issue with general application to other free trade agreement negotiations is Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS). ISDS is examined in Chapter Six. The Chapter includes a history of ISDS, the specifics of the ISDS provisions in the TPP, concerns about Australia’s vulnerability to ISDS claims, and a discussion of the benefits Australian investors gain from ISDS.
Intellectual Property (IS) issues are dealt with in Chapter Seven. The Chapter includes concerns about the TPP’s reliance on provisions based on the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) for IP provisions, the lack of harmonisation of patent laws between the parties, and the possibility that Australian law is not compliant with the TPP provisions protecting on-line service providers from prosecution.
Chapter Seven also covers copyright protections for patent medicines, and discusses the IP treatment of biologics, a new form of medicine, in the TPP.
Chapter Eight contains the Committee’s findings in relation to the TPP’s temporary entry for business purposes provisions. During the inquiry, discussion focussed on how the provisions relating to contractual service providers would be implemented in Australia, especially in relation to skills assessment and labour market testing.
The TPP’s tariff outcomes for Australia are unequivocally good. Chapter Nine details the specific benefits that accrue to Australian exporters from a representative sample of industries, including dairy, grains, and sugar.
Chapter Ten discusses non-tariff barrier provisions in the TPP. The Chapter focusses on the need for Australia to ensure that efforts amongst TPP parties to harmonise non-tariff barriers are centred on a scientific, evidence based approach.
Chapter Eleven contains the Committee’s view of the TPP as a whole.
The Committee is aware of the resurgence in nationalist and isolationist points of view across the globe, and the threat this represents to the benefits brought by free trade. Addressing these views is an underlying theme in the Committee’s recommendations and comments throughout the Report.
Australia relies on the benefits of free trade for its economic and social success. While the Committee finds the TPP to be in Australia’s national interest, the Committee is aware that there is much work to do to ensure that the Australian public is also convinced of this.