TPP’s implementation watched

February 9, 2016 at 16:35

TPP’s implementation watched

by BusinessWorld | February 4, 2016


WELLINGTON/MANILA — The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), one of the world’s biggest multinational trade deals, was signed by 12 member nations on Thursday in New Zealand, but the massive trade pact will still require years of tough negotiations before it becomes a reality.

Andrew Robb (C) the Minister for Trade and Investment from Australia watched by New Zealand Prime Minister John Key as he and the Ministerial Representatives from the 12 countries arrive to sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement in Auckland on February 4, 2016. — AFP / MICHAEL BRADLEY
The development prompted a key Philippine economic manager yesterday to prod the government — whose leadership will change on June 30 — to “work hard not to pass up” the opportunity to monitor the new deal’s “incubating period as implementation sets in” as the country charts its own path to eventually join the arrangement “in the hopefully near future.”

The TPP, a deal which will cover 40% of the world economy, has already taken over five years of negotiations to reach Thursday’s signing stage.

The signing is “an important step” but the agreement “is still just a piece of paper, or rather over 16,000 pieces of paper until it actually comes into force,” said New Zealand Prime Minister John Key at the ceremony in Auckland.

The TPP will now undergo a two-year ratification period in which at least six countries — that account for 85% of the combined gross domestic production of the 12 TPP nations — must approve the final text for the deal to be implemented. The 12 TPP signatories are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.

Given their size, both the United States and Japan would need to ratify the deal, which will set common standards on issues ranging from workers’ rights to intellectual property protection in the 12 signatory-nations.

Opposition from many US Democrats and some Republicans could mean a vote on the TPP is unlikely before President Barack Obama, a supporter of the TPP, leaves office early in 2017.

In Japan, the resignation of Economics Minister Akira Amari — Japan’s main TPP negotiator — may make it more difficult to sell the deal in Japan.

There is widespread grassroots opposition to the TPP in many countries. Opponents have criticized the secrecy surrounding TPP talks, raised concerns about reduced access to things like affordable medicines and a clause that allows foreign investors the right to sue if they feel their profits have been negatively affected by a law or policy in the host country.

Chile’s Foreign Minister Heraldo Munoz predicted “robust democratic discussion” in his South American nation.

Australian Trade Minister Andrew Robb said the agreement would be tabled next week in parliament.

Canada’s new government signed the deal on Thursday, but Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland has said “signing does not equal ratifying.” Ms. Freeland emphasized that the government committed itself to a wide-ranging consultation on the TPP during its election campaign and that process was currently under way.

Secretary of the Economy for Mexico, Illdefonso Guajardo, said the TPP would be voted on before the end of 2016, while Malaysia said the deal had already been approved, although some legislative changes were still needed.

“Other countries have already signaled an interest in joining TPP,” Mr. Key said.

One of those countries is the Philippines, which has already engaged some of the TPP signatories in consultations since last year in order to better understand membership requirements.

Other countries that have expressed interest in joining the arrangement are Colombia, Indonesia, South Korea and Taiwan.

Last Wednesday, US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip S. Goldberg told reporters that “[d]own the road, we’ve said we expect other countries to join and certainly the Philippines will be a prime country to do so given the size of its economy, its place in the region and its growing economic pattern.”

“We’re urging the Philippines to identify those areas that might need changes.”

A key obstacle to TPP membership is the foreign ownership restriction enshrined in the Constitution — an outdated imposition the outgoing 16th Congress had moved to scrap. President Benigno S. C. Aquino III, however, has consistently opposed this reform which business groups, credit raters and economists have otherwise championed in the face of the fact that foreign direct investment flows to the Philippines have persistently paled in comparison to those of comparable Southeast Asian peers, including — of late — Vietnam.

In a statement, Finance Secretary Cesar V. Purisima described yesterday’s TPP milestone as “a golden opportunity” for prospective member Philippines.

Insisting that “TPP membership bodes well for economic performance at home”, he cited studies estimating export and gross domestic product gains from Philippine membership in TPP.

“Presently, the Philippines can enjoy a window of opportunity to observe an incubating period as implementation sets in,” Mr. Purisima said.

“It is useful to be vigilantly critical as the dust settles around the current members of the pact, in order to better prepare ourselves for entry in the hopefully near future,” he added.

Noting further that “[t]he Trans-Pacific Partnership has the potential to be one of the most reliable drivers of growth when the global environment turns sluggish”, the Finance chief said: “The potential to join the trade grouping is a golden opportunity we must work hard not to pass up.”

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