The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement aims to be a high quality, 21st Century economic agreement that furthers economic integration in the Asia Pacific. In late 2011 it remains unclear whether the TPP will turn out to be a stepping stone or stumbling block towards regional or global economic integration. The current negotiations involve Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam with Japan, Mexico and Canada expressing interest in joining. The potential economic and political significance of the TPP depends on the expansion of the membership to include Japan, Korea, Indonesia, other East Asian economies, and especially China, as well as the ultimate quality of any agreement. Including additional members will be difficult after a deal is concluded among the original members and partners with whom they are currently in negotiation, especially if the content of the agreement and the accession criteria are not designed carefully and specifically with additional membership in mind. Desirably TPP will contribute to the global system by making it easier for others to join. That includes multilateralising preferences within the TPP, and eventually extending that treatment to non-members. Importantly, the agenda of negotiations needs to focus on reducing regulatory and institutional, behind-the-border barriers to trade and commerce. Focus on strengthening intellectual property rights, including stringent labour and environmental and other so called “platinum” standards will make it difficult for many members and non-members to participate fully. The TPP has the potential to keep the United States engaged in the region but complications will arise with a TPP to which China is not party, or an inward looking East Asian arrangement to which the United States is not party. A regional arrangement that does not include both the United States and China is more likely to disrupt than to contribute to regional trade and prosperity.
Australia and the Future of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement