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tim_groser21 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."


 

circuit-boards20 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.

 

cover-letter-template4 JUNE 2010: A group of over 25 American corporations and industry bodies has written to Islam Siddiqui, the USTR's chief agricultural negotiator, urging that a 'comprehensive' TPP go ahead.

The group, which includes multinationals such as Walmart, Nestle, Kraft, and Mars Incorporated alongside lobbies such the Emergency Committee For American Trade and the Grocery Manufacturers Association, urges that all avenues for increased market access be investigated and that all products and sectors be included in an agreement to enable this.

The letter goes on to recommend that import-sensitive sectors be given appropriate tariff phase-out timeframes where it can be shown that they need more time to adapt, but with an eventual aim of total tariff elimination. At any rate, the writers entreat that sensitive agricultural sectors be up for negotiation rather than wholly excluded from the upcoming rounds. They conclude arguing that the TPP should be envisaged as a 'WTO-plus' agreement.

The letter follows in its entireity below.

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cattle14 MAY 2010 - The primary and secondary sectors of the US agricultural industry are at odds with each other as to the effect a completed TPP would have on existing FTAs with TPP negotiating partners, according to Inside US Trade. It reports that a letter dated May 11 to the Obama Administration from twenty groups representing agricultural producers has requested that market access schedules and accompanying rules of origin in the US's current Free Trade Agreements with countries now negotiatiing to be part of the TPP (including Australia and Chile) go unchanged.

"That letter argues that agricultural provisions in the existing FTAs were carefully negotiated in order to secure approval in Congress. One source also pointed out that agricultural producers are eager to avoid any political difficulties that could arise if the TPP talks are used to “revisit” the provisions in previous FTAs, which are controversial in the U.S. Congress.

Producer sources also pointed out that existing FTAs have already reduced, or are in the process of reducing, agricultural tariffs down to low levels. Therefore, revisiting FTA market access schedules is more likely to result in backsliding on agricultural commitments from FTA partners, or in FTA partners making new demands on the U.S., these sources argued...."

However, sources in the processing sector have said that the letter smacks of 'protectionism', and have cited arguments for existing market access schedules to be revisited. For example, it has been argued that lowering the tariffs which have remained under previous FTAs will offer processors easier access to certain inputs, as well offering new market access gains in return for processing industries. They have warned that any limitation as to reopening past FTAs or the agriculural sector will limit opportunities for trade-offs and mean that other countries shut off those same sectors, limiting the scope of any negotiated deal.

 

"...In March 2 testimony before the International Trade Commission (ITC), Devry Boughner, director of international business relations for Cargill Incorporated (a multinational producer and marketer of food and agricultural products),  signaled that her company would not favor such limitations by arguing that the TPP agreement must be comprehensive, including all products and all sectors in all TPP economies.

“The agreement must be bold, building on past FTAs, but not limiting ourselves to what was done in the past,” she argued. “For the U.S. food and agriculture sector to gain critical market access to TPP economies, TPP must liberalize trade for even the most sensitive agricultural products.”"

The USTR has privately said it wants to determine an internal position for how the TPP will interact with existing trade deals for the second round of negotiations in June.


Notably, the May 11 letter comes from a combination of organisational lobbies, some of which have favoured increased trade liberalisation in the past. The organisation that  reportedly led the efforts, the American Farm Bureau Association, called for progress on bilateral FTAs on 3 May. This may indicate concern by US producers that the arrangements for agricultural market access in a TPP would be tougher.

 

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australasia_1APRIL 2 2010: The possibility of a broad regional trade agreement in the Pacific is reportedly leading Australia, New Zealand and Singapore to consider reopening the market access arrangements in their own existing bilateral trade agreements. While sources are suggesting this is being done with an intention of creating a single, unified market access schedule to eliminate a 'spaghetti bowl' effect ahead of a TPP Agreement, a USTR official has already expressed doubts about reopening these agreements at a sensitive time. An Inside US Trade story follows below the break...

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us_flag26 MARCH 2010 - John Ballingall, the deputy chief executive of the New Zealand Institute For Economic Research, has responded to the NZ Herald opinion piece by Bernard Hickey on the disadvantages of a free trade agreement with the United States. He argues that the agreement is between multiple countries rather than one between the United States and New Zealand alone, and that while dairy will be a matter of tough negotiation, it cannot be absolutely blocked in any final agreement. The full, annotated version of Ballingall's article is available online here.
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australian flagMARCH 15, 2010: Barack Obama is due to meet with his Australian counterpart, Kevin Rudd, on March 26. The whirlwind stop in Canberra is likely to cover the by-then complete negotiation rounds in Melbourne for the TPP agreement. While Obama is quick to hail the 'model alliance' between the US and Australia, serious doubts are rising in Rudd's capital about the lack of consultation and analysis going ahead into the negotiations, as an excellently-argued  Canberra Times op-ed by Professor Thomas Faunce expresses today...

 

 

 

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