Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Wednesday hailed the revival of the Trans Pacific Partnership as a boon for jobs, but critics questioned how much Australia would really gain from a deal that excludes the US.
After Canada Wednesday agreed to rejoin 10 other nations in resurrecting the trade pact, Turnbull termed the deal a multi-billion-dollar trade windfall for Australia.
“It is a big deal,” the prime minister told reporters. “A big trade deal at a time when many people said it couldn’t be done, after the United States pulled out, after President Trump was elected.”
“We are firmly of the view that a free and open Indo-Pacific, open markets, free trade, the rule of law, encouraging investment and trade through our region is manifestly in our national interest and in the interests of all of the countries in the region.”
In addition to Australia, the pact now known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership includes Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.
The agreement, expected to be formally ratified in Chile in March, will incorporate all commitments from the original TPP, except for a limited number of provisions suspended temporarily and some remaining issues to be finalised.
It means new bilateral agreements for Canberra with Canada and Mexico, as well as increased access for many Australian agricultural products to member states. The deal seeks to remove 98 percent of tariffs within the trade bloc.
The TPP looked doomed last year after President Donald Trump withdrew the US, dismaying allies but fulfilling an election pledge.
Australia’s opposition Labor party said the new pact had lost its shine since the US withdrawal and the government had failed to specify how the country would benefit from it.
“This is a very different agreement because America’s not in it,” shadow minister for trade Jason Clare told Sky news.
“The original agreement involving the United States involved around 40 per cent of the global economy. Without the US it’s about 13 per cent.”
Patricia Ranald, a senior research fellow at the University of Sydney, cautioned that a revived deal would deliver less than the government boasts.
Access to Canada and Mexico would be moderately beneficial but trade agreements were already in place with the other countries, “so the market access gains are at the margin”, she said.
Ranald has been critical of the pact, which she says allows corporations to bypass national courts and does too little to protect labour rights and migrant workers.
“I think the TPP has become a symbol of open markets, against the Trump unilateralism, but if you actually look at what is in the TPP it does reinforce monopolies which are the opposite of open markets,” she said.
“It really is about global corporations having a set of rules that suits them.”