APEC: Lots of trade talk but no clear path forward

22 November 2016: There were a lot of different media reports about the future of the TPP during the APEC meeting of 21 governments in Lima last weekend. Here’s our explainer:

1) The TPP remains dead (for now)

Malcolm Turnbull and Barak Obama continued to talk up the TPP at APEC. But the Obama administration had already confirmed it would not present the TPP implementing legislation to the current “lame duck” Congress which sits until the new Congress replaces it in January, and Donald Trump had promised to reject it. Hopes that he might change his mind were dashed by Trump’s announcement after APEC on November 22 that he will reject the current version of the TPP on his first day in office.

Trump’s opposition to the TPP was a strong part of his election campaign.  He could try to renegotiate the deal but this would take a long time and then require the whole process of signing and implementing legislation to begin again in each country.

There’s also been talk of a TPP without the US, but that would also require changes to the deal. Currently the TPP can’t come into force until the US has ratified it. It’s also extremely unlikely that the remaining 11 countries would agree to keep the deal as is without the US, since they agreed to US proposals on ISDS and medicine monopolies to get access to the US market.

2) RCEP is the next mega-trade deal for the Asia Pacific

The RCEP  is the next mega trade deal for the Asia Pacific region. It currently involves all the ASEAN countries plus China, Japan, India, Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

This deal is being negotiated in secret with the aim to conclude negotiations by next year. Because of the secrecy, we can’t know exactly what is in the RCEP. But what we do know from leaked documents is that there are proposals for it to contain some of the worst aspects of the TPP: damaging IP rules which extend monopolies on lifesaving medicines and investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) rules which allow corporations to sue governments. 

Since the RCEP does not include the US, and the TPP will not happen, it is less likely that other governments will agree to this agenda. However, we will still need to campaign hard to ensure the TPP’s corporate agenda is not used as a model in the RCEP.

The US administration has criticised the RCEP, saying it will not have the same “standards" as the TPP. But the Turnbull Government is an enthusiastic supporter of the deal.

3) Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP) a concept only

The APEC meeting ended with a declaration supporting a Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP), which should include the TPP, RCEP and other agreements, and would include the US, China and other APEC members.

This is an initiative China has been backing since 2014 but it is only in a conceptual stage at the moment. APEC will continue a study of the concept this year, but actual negotiations will not start for years.

Obviously, it is concerning that the aim is to absorb both the TPP and the RCEP into an eventual mega deal for the entire Asia Pacific region. 

In the short term, we’ll be focusing on campaigning to keep damaging medicine monopolies and ISDS out of the RCEP, and for fairer trade rules which protect workers’ rights and the environment. 

Read more: 

Don’t repeat the failures of the TPP in other agreements, by Dr Patricia Ranald (Nov 22 2016)

I'll quit TPP on day one as president: Donald Trump (SMH, Nov 22, 2016)