Abbott’s US visit did nothing to solve Trans-Pacific Trade (TPP) stalemate

By Dr Patricia Ranald

Prime Minister Abbott’s Washington talks on the stalled TPP between the US, Australia and ten other Pacific Rim countries on June 12 did nothing to solve the three major intractable problems which have dragged the negotiations into their fifth year.

Firstly, the US is still driving the TPP agenda on behalf of its major export industries for changes to other countries’ domestic laws which other governments have resisted. These are not traditional trade issues, but are public health, copyright, media and other policies which should be decided through open democratic and parliamentary processes, not through secret trade deals. US corporations also want special rights for foreign investors to sue governments in international tribunals if domestic laws or policies can be claimed to “harm” their investment.

Secondly, the two major players, the US and Japan, cannot agree about the traditional trade issues of increased access to each other’s agricultural and vehicle markets, and have not made any market access offers to other governments. This leaves the Australian and other Governments waiting in the wings, and shows who is really running the negotiations.

Thirdly, strong domestic opposition to the TPP in the US has influenced both major parties and has prevented the Congress from even introducing the ‘fast track’ legislation which would remove the constitutional power of Congress to amend any TPP deal. The US cannot deliver on any deal until this legislation is passed. The strength of US community opposition means neither party wants the TPP to become an issue in the November Congressional elections. This means the negotiations could drag on into 2015.

TPP negotiators are expected to meet again from July 3 – 12 for another round of talks. However, it is increasingly clear that the TPP is not in Australia’s interest. We call on the Abbott Government to reject US proposals and to release the text of the TPP for full public and parliamentary debate before any decision to endorse it is made by Cabinet.