Australia signs TPP agreement

Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement will now be subject to parliamentary inquiry

Chief negotiator for New Zealand, David Walker, hongis with Australia's trade minister, Andrew Robb, during a powhiri at the opening of the TPP signing. Credit Peter Meecham / MFAT (NZ)

Chief negotiator for New Zealand, David Walker, hongis with Australia's trade minister, Andrew Robb, during a powhiri at the opening of the TPP signing. Credit Peter Meecham / MFAT (NZ)

Trade minister Andrew Robb today signed the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement alongside representatives from 11 other nations that are party to the TPP.

The signing took place in Auckland amid protests against the controversial trade agreement.

Along with Australia, the agreement's initial signatories comprise Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam.

The government said that the TPP will eliminate tariffs on US$9 billion of Australia’s dutiable exports to TPP countries.

“The tariff cuts will deliver material gains for our exporters across the board and place downward pressure on the cost of imported goods for households and businesses, but the benefits that will flow from the creation of a more seamless trading environment are not well understood,” Robb said in a statement.

“The embrace of paperless trading, streamlined customs procedures and trading rules, assistance for SMEs, more seamless data flows and greater flexibility with data storage, are all features of the TPP.

“The agreement also contains provisions to help stimulate new investment and as experience shows, when you deepen trading relations increased investment inevitably follows.”

Critics of the agreement have cited among other aspects of the deal its potential impact on intellectual property regimes in nations that are party to the TPP.

The TPP’s IP chapter includes two annexes devoted to ISPs, including rules compelling the creation of copyright infringement notice schemes. (Australia’s industry-led copyright notice scheme remains stalled.)

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission last year called for a “comprehensive and robust” analysis of IP provisions in the TPP before Australia enacts the agreement.

The government has said that the TPP won't require changes to existing Australian IP laws.

The ACCC said it was also concerned about investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions in the TPP.

ISDS clauses give private companies the ability to potentially sue governments if domestic legislation violates a country’s obligations under a trade agreement.

Read more: Google slams Australian copyright laws

Robb has said he is confident Australia won’t be sued under TPP ISDS provisions.

Australia signing the agreement is only the first part of enacting the TPP. The treaty will now need to be tabled in parliament for 20 joint sitting days, alongside a National Interest Analysis (which is prepared by the government).

The Joint Standing Committee on Treaties will then conduct an inquiry into the agreement and report to parliament. Following the inquiry, any necessary legislation to implement the TPP will need to be introduced into parliament and passed.

Sixty days after the initial group of signatories has ratified the agreement it will come into force, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s TPP implementation timeline.

(If that hasn’t occurred two years from today, the agreement will come into force 60 days after that deadline as long as the agreement has been ratified by six signatories representing at least 85 per cent of the combined GDP of the initial group of nations.)

The government earlier this week rejected a recommendation of a report issued by the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee that a cost-benefit analysis of trade agreements be undertaken by an independent body, such as the Productivity Commission.

"Under the existing treaty-making system it has been common practice under successive governments to conduct a feasibility study prior to the commencement of trade negotiations and for this study to be made public," the government's response to the recommendation stated.

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Tags intellectual propertyTrans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)

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