The TPP - now what?

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is done.  After years of intense negotiations, the conclusion of the mega trade deal was met with mixed reaction from the Coalition Government, Labor Opposition and Greens Party. Over the weekend we even got a leaked version of what is claimed to be the final text from Wikileaks, which confirms most of the rumours about what has been kept and abandonned.

So where to from here? 

We won’t have an official release of the text immediately. Amongst other things, it is unlikely that the agreement is completely finished yet - even the latest leak still contains "negotiator's notes". At the moment negotiators will be working on the final "legal scrub" of the text, making sure every word is correct in each official language. 

The Canadian President has suggested an English version (missing the side letters) may be available within the next week – presumably pushing to have something for people to examine before elections on October 19.  Meanwhile under the terms of the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) in the US the text must be public 30 days after the President’s stated intention to sign.  It seems likely that Australia would release the text in coordination with the other members.

Once the text is finalised, the treaty still has a lot of hurdles to jump to in each of the member countries before it becomes law for them or even comes into effect internationally. In Australia it is the executive who will decide whether to sign and ratify the Treaty.  In practical effect for a Treaty of this magnitude this will be a cabinet decision. 

After signing but before ratifying the TPP, the text will be tabled in parliament and the agreement referred to the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCOT).  JSCOT will make a recommendation on whether the agreement should be ratified.  The recommendation is not binding on Cabinet - they can decide to ratify even if JSCOT recommends against it – however JSCOT recommendations are treated seriously. To aid JSCOT, a National Interest Analysis (NIA) and other documents will be prepared by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). These analyses provide JSCOT (and the public) with an assessment of the impacts of the Treaty; although they have come under strong criticism recently with repeated calls for a full and independent cost/benefit analysis to be prepared.

The TPP may also be referred to other parliamentary committees, the recent Korean and Chinese Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) for example were both referred to the Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade Committees in addition to JSCOT.

If there is any implementing legislation then that must be passed through both houses of Parliament, and that legislation needs to be “certified” as giving effect to the Treaty by the USA. 

Overall the whole process generally takes a couple of months.  Assuming a reference to JSCOT around the end of the month when the full text is public, and the conventional 20 joint sitting days for the consideration of the TPP, the earliest ratification dates for Australia would be March 2016.[1] However this would likely be optimistic – the Canadian Prime Minister has indicated he expected countries to sign the agreement at the beginning of 2016 and ratify over a period of 2 years. 

As to when the agreement actually goes into force – that’s another unknown.  There are reports that six ratifications may be enough for TPP to come into effect between those countries, but until we see the text we won’t know for sure. The only certainty is there’s still a while to go before the TPP comes into effect in Australia. 

[1] Assuming the agreement tabled on first realistic joint sitting day (9 November) and based on 2015 sitting calendar – 2016 parliamentary sitting calendar has not been released yet. 


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