By Sondre Solstad
Mar. 8 – Over 600 delegates from 11 countries are currently meeting in Singapore with an aim to continue progress on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement.
“This is the 16th round of negotiations, and a very important one,” stated Malaysia’s Minister of International Trade and Industry, Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed.
The TPP stems from the Pacific Three Closer Economic Partnership between Brunei, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore that was concluded in 2005. This agreement serves as the basis of the current negotiations, which aim to establish a comprehensive free trade agreement to effectively eliminate tariffs and other non-tariff barriers to trade among signature countries. The agreement is also set to cover a range of other trade-related issues.
Issues currently under discussion include customs, telecommunications, technical barriers to trade, competition policies, e-commerce, environment, services, investment, government procurement, intellectual property rights, market access and regulatory coherence across member countries.
Participating countries are: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam. These 11 countries combine for a gross domestic product of over US$21 trillion.
The potential impact of the TPP would be great, with a recent study concluding that the annual welfare gains from the partnership would reach US$295 billion per year by 2025 (assuming Japan and South Korea join by 2014). The study also concluded that if this agreement later leads to a free trade agreement (FTA) covering the entire Asia-Pacific region, gains are estimated to reach US$1.9 trillion annually.
The TPP negotiations, however, are not without controversy. The initiative has been criticized for a lack of transparency, its impact on access to affordable medicine, provision of extraterritorial rights to multi-national corporations, placing limits on freedom of speech in the name of copyright protection, and its impact on important domestic industries.
The public has not been given access to the actual text and content of the negotiations.
The perception among some experts and policy-makers that the TPP is an agreement designed to contain China has led to concerns regarding the agreement’s impact on regional stability. Member nations maintain that the door is open for China to join the initiative, but some question if this invitation (which would have to accommodate Chinese concerns and interests) is sincere.
China, Japan and South Korea have already begun their own set of negotiations for a three-way FTA. Preparatory meetings were concluded in Tokyo in February, and negotiations are set to begin in South Korea later this year.