21 DECEMBER 2010: Australian fair-trade activism network AFTINET has neatly extracted and summarised the Australian Productivity Commission's findings on the shortcomings of current free-trade agreements (for reading here), while the findings have raised waves in neighbouring New Zealand.
Dr Russel Norman, co-leader of the Greens, says that the compounded effect of the recent Wikileaks showing official doubt of the benefits to NZ of any negotiated agreement and the APC report show that both the current National government and the preceding Labour government have 'over-hyped' their free-trade acheivements and back the Greens' previous stance that the TPP should contain no investor-state dispute provisions.
Speaking to Radio New Zealand's Morning Report about Norman's comments, Trade Minister Tim Groser said the Australian body's report was of no relevance to New Zealand, although he admitted that analyses of some previous FTAs, such as NZ-Singapore, would have shown fewer economic benefits.
He also defended the notion of having investor remedies against governments in trade partnerships:
TG: "A lot of New Zealand investors are always worried about...if we put our money into China, or...India. or into Brazil, what protections have we got around arbitrary law changes?...Investor disputes are very important to New Zealand...we have what we call in trade negotiations an offensive interest."
"I think it's perfectly plain that all New Zealand needs to know is that New Zealand has suffered from an inability to crack open markets, and any trade agreement that moves us in the right direction is worth doing, and frankly, whether it's a benefit of half a billion, or three-quarters of a billion, doesn't alter my judgment on that underlying issue one bit."
20 DECEMBER 2010: Inside US Trade reports that USTR held a meeting with US stakeholders last week, where it was indicated that US negotiators would likely draft a proposed text covering all aspects on an intellectual property rights chapter at the fifth round of talks in Chile in February.
To date, the US has tabled proposals for general provisions and trademarks of an IP chapter of TPP. The February talks would see the US table sections on copyright, patents, and IP rights enforcement.
A blog on Knowledge Economy International, representatives of which were present at the stakeholder meeting, indicates that the US intends that unlike ACTA (in ACTA's current form), the TPP will have a dispute resolution process where parties may be subject to fines and penalties for breach of the agreement. KEI were also told the Obama Administration would not consider anything which lowered IPR norms as part of the TPP - in effect, IP laws and rights can only be harmonised upwards in TPP. KEI has some good examples of how this departs from executive policy under both the Clinton and Bush Administrations on its site.
22 SEPTEMBER 2010: Vietnam's News Agency reports the newly appointed Chilean Ambassador to Vietnam, Fernando Urrutia, as saying that Chile and Vietnam are now completing negotiations on a Free Trade Agreement. The two parties held their sixth round of talks in Hanoi last month, and are likely to hold a final round in Santiago in October or November.
Two-way trade between Chile and Vietnam has already increased from US$108 million in 2005 to over US$230 million last year. Vietnam mainly exports oil, coffee, and footwear to Chile while importing processed copper, timber, and wine.
10 SEPTEMBER 2010: Following the TPP intersessionary talks in Peru, where the US indicated its preference for leaving existing FTAs in place while negotiating afresh with new trading partners, the NZ Minister of Trade, Tim Groser, has expressed concern about New Zealand's ability to gain the most advantageous deal out of the talks.
Australia's original FTA with the US was considered less than ideal, due to the exclusion of areas such as dairy and sugar. Groser told Radio New Zealand that he believed that under the preferred US arrangement, it would be harder for NZ to negotiate an agreement with the US that improved on the Australia-US FTA.
15 SEPTEMBER 2010: Following its recent general election, Australia's Labor government has reshuffled its Cabinet, replacing Simon Crean as Minister of Trade with Dr. Craig Emerson. Dr. Emerson, who previously worked as an economic adviser to the United Nations, and served as the Minister for Competition and Consumer Affairs in Kevin Rudd's government, has previously strongly criticised the Howard-era system of bilateral trade-agreements, especially the Australia-US FTA, as "a paperwork nightmare for exporting and importing businesses". He has also advocated continued multilateral negotiations through the WTO system, saying that "trade policy should revert to the principle of non-discrimination that formed the cornerstone of the world trading system before the rise of preferential deals".
Speaking to Sydney's 2GB radio station on September 14, Dr. Emerson indicated that Labor policy would not re-erect any of the tariff barriers removed on imports since Bob Hawke's 1980s government, and indicated continued strong support for foreign investment into Australia:
“We live in a global economy, and we do need foreign investment…we want Australia to remain an attractive place for foreign investment. We still get a lot of benefit out of big projects and enterprises that are partly or even wholly foreign-owned in this country… Of course there are some areas, Ross, in the economy, where people are more sensitive about foreign investment, that’s natural, but I think as a general presumption, we should be in favour of foreign investment, not against it.”
13 SEPTEMBER 2010: Public Citizen, along with 19 other US activist groups, has signed off an open letter to US Trade Representative Ron Kirk asking that any negotiated TPP restrict intellectual property provisions to levels no higher than those set under the TRIPS agreement.
It asks instead that the US build upon the more progressive IP exemptions allowed for in the US-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement, which made patent term extensions and patent linkage voluntary while placing limits on the term and scope of data exclusivity.
It also asks that accession or adherence to ACTA (the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) not be a requirement of a TPP. It is believed ACTA could threaten access to several generic medicines. New Zealand, the US, Singapore and Australia are presently negotiating parties in that agreement. The letter can be read here.
2 SEPTEMBER 2010: Inside US Trade reports the the Office of the US Trade Representative is currently pursuing multiple approaches to achieve 'regulatory coherence' among TPP parties. This is being done to relieve barriers to exports. USTR is currently asking private-sector stakeholders to identify priority areas where regulatory barriers need to be examined and potentially removed.
Assistant US Trade Representative has also indicated that the US is keen to look at establishing new TPP-wide regulatory systems for emerging industries, as well as increasing transparency in current regulatory requirements among TPP countries - this may be done through the construction of a database that provides all information on these requirements in one place for those who may want to trade within the TPP.
It is reported that other USTR officials suggested that the Obama administration is looking to expand the provisions on labour and environmental protections before what was inclued in past US agreements. This may include cooperative efforts on job creation and skills enhancement, and the promotion and regulatory reform of 'green' technology. Particular areas of interest cited by US Trade Reps have reportedly been illegal logging, wildlife trafficking, and marine conservation.
30 AUGUST 2010: Inside US Trade reports that while TPP members discussed complex and concrete proposals on how to structure market access agreements in any final agreement, there were seversal unresolved points at the end of a two day 'intersessional' meeting in Peru.
Sources said negotiators could not agree on how past market access schedules in previous FTA's would relate to any new schedules, or how to structure the market access talks for the TPP itself - and that these are being treated as two interrelated issues.
It is understood that the US presently favours keeping pre-negotiated market access schedules unaltered, while Australia (whose existing market access arrangements with the US exclude key products such as sugar) is arguing in favour of 'opening up' the schedules for future concessions. However the USTR disputes this interpretation, responding that talkd have been more 'nuanced'.
Proposals discussed in terms of structuring market access have included the idea of negotiating a single market access schedule while leaving scope for bilateral outcomes alongside it. Both Malaysia and Canada were present at the intersessional for bilateral talks with TPP members, but did not formally participate in the market access talks. Canada is set to meet US trade representatives on the weekend of September 6 for more expansive talks. Both the US and NZ have expressed misgivings about Canada failing to offer sufficient dairy market access and its agricultural supply management system, should it join the talks.
Meanwhile, members of the TPP business coalition in the US are preparing revised papers for the office of the USTR ahead of the third round of talks in Brunei, with a focus on hotly-debated areas such as regulatory coherence.
5 JULY 2010: Inside US Trade has reported that TPP negotiators will meet in Peru in August to attempt to sort out the architecture of market access schedules. The market access structure will apply to goods, textiles, and agriculture. However, all parties have now agreed to have one set of rules on services, investment, sanitary and phytosanitary rules, technical barriers to trade, government procurement, and IP rules.
Officials have also clarified that previous FTAs within the TPP membership will co-exist alongside any new TPP arrangement. This means that if the TPP were to contain higher standard or more demanding requirements, this would be implemented while existing obligations would be maintained. There will be specific negotiations where an existing FTA and a TPP come into direct conflict.
Ahead of the third round of formal negotiations in October, at which parties are hoping to table draft chapters of the TPP text itself, a source has suggested that some topics, including government procurement and rules of origin, may have specific elements tailored to assist small-to-medium sized enterprises. Making the agreement of more value to these enterprises was one of the main focuses of the San Francisco meeting last month.
2 JULY 2010: Much of what was discussed and debated at the second round of TPP talks in San Francisco has been teased out and presented to the public after the fact. Public Citizen's Eyes on Trade blog highlights the ongoing uncertainty as to how negotiating parties will deal with their existing 'spaghetti bowl' arrangement of bilateral agreements, and suggests that this means no final agreement can be reached by late 2011.
The US position at the San Francisco talks was that the TPP negotiations should not 'open up' existing market access schedules. This would likely mean that the special status of some sensitive products in the previous FTAs (for example, sugar's exclusion from the US-Australia FTA) would be preserved. This may limit the further market access the US can get within Australia, Peru, and Chile.
Sources say the US is keen to negotiate bilaterally with countries it doesn't yet have agreements with - this would involve separate talks with Brunei, New Zealand and Singapore. This would create a number of different market access schedules within the TPP, with differing tariffs and deadlines. It is understood that Australia, NZ and Singapore would prefer plurilateral agreements on market access across the board, and that existing market access schedules be opened. The rationale is that this would be simpler, and set a high standard for the agreement on the whole and future acceding parties. As mentioned earlier on the TPP Digest, the primary and secondary sectors of the US agricultural industry are split on keeping existing market access schedules closed. Producers fear the effects of opening up the domestic market to further agricultural imports from Peru, Australia, Singapore and Chile. Processors, meanwhile, believe they could gain advantages in new markets from reform of market access rules, and have accused producers of 'protectionism'.
Inside US Trade reports that negotiators are planning another informal meeting on the matter of market access schedules before Brunei in October.
Inside US Trade is also reporting that existing regulatory difficulties across member markets may also prove to be a hurdle. USTR Ron Kirk has cited regulatory coherence as one of the aims that would make the TPP a '21st century' agreement, but business spokespeople have admitted that addressing present differences will be 'very hard'. An alternative that some have proposed is to establish a framework of principles that can be used for future regulatory coherence, rather than trying to harmonise all sectors ahead of a final agreement. The US Business Coalition for TPP has prepared a confidential paper on regulatory coherence which urges TPP countries to go further and farther than previous trade agreements to ensure that, where possible, binding commitments are sought and made. Another source suggested New Zealand and Australia are likely to be at the front of such a push.
5 APRIL 2010 - Alejandra Alayza, coordinator of the Pervian Network for Globalisation with Equity (RedGE) has written a piece on diariolaprimeraperu in which there is a little speculation on what exactly a TPP agreement between the US and Peru could offer in the way of new deals and bargaining - and if so, how onerous those new requirements may be. The original piece is in Spanish, but an English translation follows below the break.
26 MARCH 2010 - La Republica and IPS report that a former Peruvian Deputy Minister of Labour, Julio Gamero, has warned that the large number of trade agreeements Peru has signed in the past year, as well as the impending negotiations in the TPP, may be having a negative impact on labour rights.
Gamero warned IPS that over the past three years, the number of collective bargaining agreements, health and safety inspections, and unionised members of the workforce has fallen dramatically. He is critical of the government's response, saying that it was not until a US delegation on labour issues visited Lima that a liaison office between government and unions was created. Coordinator for the Peruvian Network for Globalisation with Equity (RedGE), Alejandra Alayza, says it is essential to guarantee labour rights in any further agreements so that workers may share in the benefits.
The IPS article, which follows below, also looks at the effect of tariff-lowering on peasant farmers, as well as the TPA with the United States's impact on indigenous forestry rights and intellectual property.