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Shock trade-offs by TPPA ministers in Singapore

11 December 2013

For immediate release

Shock trade-offs by TPPA ministers in Singapore; plan to reconvene in a month

The four-day ministerial summit on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement concluded late yesterday in Singapore.

‘In one sense, they failed to deliver on their “end game” of a deal by December 2013’, said Professor Kelsey, who has been in Singapore observing the meeting.

‘But their decision to convene another meeting of ministers in just one month’s time signals a serious intent to maintain political pressure and conclude the agreement early in 2014.’

The December to January period is the ideal time to minimise public, media and political scrutiny. Most of the twelve countries will be on Christmas holidays and their parliaments will be in recess.

Trade Minister Tim Groser spun the missed deadline as giving the talks a new momentum.

Professor Kelsey agreed, noting that ‘the nature and speed of decisions ministers apparently made in the past four days are truly frightening, given the complexity of the issues and the stark differences of position that various leaked texts have revealed.’

The new timeline suggests the parties may aim to conclude and sign the deal on the margins of the meeting of APEC trade ministers around April next year.

‘The burning question is whether they really can achieve it’, Kelsey said.

A three-paragraph statement issued at the end of the ministerial summit was appropriately bland, given the complete void of any official information during the four-day meeting. Reading between the lines, it reveals four points about the current state of play.

First, ministers say they identified ‘potential landing zones’ for ‘the majority of key outstanding issues in the text’. Some of these decisions are hugely significant. New Zealand, Australia and Canada appear to have surrendered to an as-yet-undisclosed version of US-based demands on intellectual property that they have consistently deemed unacceptable.

Second, ministers were unable to reach even ‘potential’ outcomes for other key issues in the text. The state-owned enterprise chapter, which the US has sold hard to the US Congress, corporate lobbies and the Democrats’ union base, is still a mess. ‘If the US can’t force an outcome by end the end of January, we could see a repeat of the intellectual property capitulation or the US will have to compromise. The latter seems less likely.’

Third, the US made no significant offers on market access for agriculture in Singapore. Japanese media reported a breakdown in the US-Japan talks on agriculture.

‘The US behaviour is not surprising’, Kelsey said. ‘What is shocking is that other countries would make major concessions without a firm US market access offer and knowing that Obama cannot guarantee to deliver any deal through the Congress’.

‘Some ministers at the press conference said the deal is contingent on acceptable market access. But they have already put their cards on the table’.

A final piece of hypocrisy in the statement is the promise to ‘further our consultation with stakeholders and engage in our respective political processes’.

The ministers have simply ignored groundswell of condemnation from legislators in the US, Peru, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Japan about the secrecy of negotiations and their calls for release of the draft text.

Stakeholders, pro and con the TPPA, have had no formal opportunity to interact with negotiators for the past three negotiating rounds, although most governments have engaged actively with commercial lobbyists.

Media are hugely frustrated.

Reflecting on whether the ministers can really do the deal, Professor Kelsey warned that ‘we are now in a purely political zone. Ministers will make concessions in secret, assuming they can weather the storm when they finally become public.’

‘That is a major gamble for National in an election year, especially if they plan to sell out other aspects of the national interest as they appear to have done with Pharmac’.

ENDS

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