Andrew Robb has pulled off his fourth major trade deal for Australia in little over a year – and it is the biggest yet. True, Australia’s energetic trade minister did not accomplish this single handed; after all 12 Pacific rim nations are parties to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but Robb , as is his inclination, was right at the centre of the final scrap that pccupied ministers and officials 24-7 for four days.
Australia and New Zealand are major benificiaries, assuming the enabling agreement is legislated by the erratic and often perverse Australian Parliament. The Opposition leader, Bill Shorten, took to the microphone quickly to say he favoured the agreement, but then added that he had not studied the text, and could not commit until he had. He said much the same thing about the FTA between Australia and China, but is now blocking this essential deal under the command of the trade unions.
What’s in the TPP for Australia? The service sector, farmers and the food industry, and manufacturers – there are not many of them left – are potentially the big winners from the TPP. In agriculture, dairy products, wine, meats such as beef pork and lamb, horticulture, grain and seafood will all enjoy greater access to a market that covers 40 per cent of the world’s population. Australia’s financial services industry, once it becomes more efficient, will better able to penetrate these markets.
On the debit side there will be less protection for Australian retailers, who have only just won a minor battle with GST extended to prducts valued at less than $1000 bnought on liner – a silly move by ousted treasurer Joe Hockey because it is a tax that will cost more to collect than it will earn. The deal will favour American technology, as it stops national governme nts or companies favouring their own country’s producers, and prohibits imposing national customs duties on any electronically traded products.
Much of the detail of the agreed TPP has yet to be published, and we can expect the Australian unions will go through the document’s fine print to look for threats, so its passage into law is not guaranteed, anymore than can approval by the US Congress. The debate is not over yet.