As the Report has made clear, the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) is a complex agreement, with many issues requiring exploration in detail.
Having examined those issues, the Committee can draw a number of conclusions.
The first is that the TPP represents the best possibility in at least 20 years to develop a multi-lateral free trade agreement, which will overcome the ‘noodle bowl’ deficiencies of the bi-lateral free agreements that have dominated international trade over the past two decades.
In addition, the TPP contains a number of improvements over existing free trade agreements, including:
significant tariff reductions;
attempts to harmonise and make transparent rules and regulations across TPP parties; and
inclusion of e-commerce provisions for the first time.
The report has examined in detail a number of matters of concern to participants in the inquiry.
The committee believes there are improvements to be made by the Australian Government in the transparency of free trade negotiations, and has recommended accordingly.
In relation to Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions, the Committee focussed on the facts that:
ISDS is now a widespread and well established practice;
Australia is at little risk from adverse findings in ISDS claims, noting there may be costs; and
Australia is a beneficiary of existing ISDS provisions, as they provide certainty to Australian investors overseas.
However Australia should expect—and make provision for—aggrieved investors taking ISDS claims against Australia.
The Committee has also noted that ISDS provisions are maturing over time, correcting poor outcomes from the past. The Committee suggests that the Government ensure it has set aside sufficient funds to defend ISDS claims made against it.
In relation to the temporary entry for business persons, the Committee has found that the majority of concerns about the provision for contractual service suppliers to work temporarily in Australia are unfounded.
Australia will only permit entry without market testing to contractual service suppliers from countries that have made reciprocal commitments in the TPP.
In addition, contractual service suppliers must meet the mandatory skills assessment test to work in Australia, but that test can amount to recognition of skills accreditation achieved in other countries rather than by actual skills assessment.
The Committee believes that concerns about Australians losing work opportunities as a result of contractual service suppliers entering Australia without market testing can be allayed by the fact that business groups find contractual service suppliers from abroad more expensive to hire than Australians.
The Committee agrees with the Australian Government that:
At its core, the TPP is an economic agreement that: breaks down some of the most persistent barriers to opportunities for our businesses to enter new markets ...
The Committee is particularly concerned that Australia’s long-term commitment to free trade, from which Australia benefits immensely, is currently at risk from a resurgence of nationalism and isolationism internationally.
The Committee believes that Australia should hold to its principles and continue to promote free trade as a mechanism that provides improvements to the lives of people everywhere.
The Committee recommends that Australia ratify the TPP.
The Committee supports the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement between the Government of Australia and the Governments of: Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States of America, and Vietnam and recommends that binding treaty action be taken.
The Hon Stuart Robert MP
28 November 2016