CANBERRA -- It is still shrouded in secrecy, but 12 Asia Pacific nations, including Australia, Singapore and the United States, have negotiated a “transformational” trade deal covering 40 per cent of the global economy.
It has taken around seven years to clinch the deal, but the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will become the world’s largest trade zone and cover drug access, food prices and rules for the digital economy.
“I think it is a very big win," Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told radio 3AW.
“Any deal like this is of enormous benefit to us. It is a gigantic foundation stone for our future prosperity.”
Under the deal, thousands (more than 98 percent) of tariffs will be eliminated in the TPP region, removing import taxes on around $9 billion of Australian trade.
“It is the biggest global trade deal in 20 years. It is transformational, “Trade Minister Andrew Robb told Newsradio.
He said the TPP’s text, which has been the subject of leaks to WikiLeaks, will be released “sooner rather than later.”
“It will present to us and the other member countries, unprecedented level of new opportunities.”
The Opposition’s Trade spokeswoman Penny Wong wants to see the TPP’s details, but said the deal had "significant potential benefits”.
"We welcome Mr Robb's assurances he's held the line in the relation to the accessibility of medicines,” Wong told reporters in Melbourne.
“We'll hold him to that and we will consider and analyse the whole of the agreement in the national interest.”
U.S. President Barack Obama said the agreement, which will face opposition in Congress, “opened new markets” and “leveled the playing field" for farmers and manufacturers.
Turnbull had been directly negotiating with Obama over a last minute disagreement over the intellectual property rights of advanced new pharmaceutical drugs, made from living organisms, known as “biologics.”
“We believe we have got the balance right,” Turnbull said.
The U.S. wanted to increase the level of protection for pharmaceutical companies to 12 years, but a bloc lead by Australia, managed to keep it to the current five years.
“There is no change to our laws, at all, in terms of data protection, drug laws, patents and so forth. They all stay in place,” he said.
“This deal has no impact on the pharmaceutical benefits scheme. It is not going to makes drugs more expensive in Australia whatsoever.”
The Trade Minister has described the TPP as overall a great deal for Australia farmers, but he said Australia did not get what it wanted in the area of sugar.
“I'm sure the sugar people will be disappointed, “Robb told ABC News Breakfast.
“I'm disappointed we couldn't get as much as we wanted. There has been no increase for 15 years. We have doubled it and there is a prospect of doubling it within two to three years.”
Last year, one third of Australia’s total goods and services exports, worth $109 billion, were sent to TPP countries.
The controversial clause allowing companies to sue countries, the Investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS), has been amended to ensure tobacco companies cannot use it sue over issue, like plain packaging laws.
“We were successful in getting an agreement, that tobacco companies in the future could never use the ISDS provisions,” Robb said.
“There is an ISDS provision. It does have safeguards on public policy for health and education, but over and above that, we have an absolutely explicit identification of tobacco companies as ineligible to ever use the ISDS provisions in any way.”
The transpacific deal has been welcomed by farmers and business, but critics have warned the TPP threatens jobs, the environment and consumers.
Environmental group, Friends of the Earth, said the TPP favours corporate investments over the planet.
“This is a sad day for our planet” said Friends of the Earth’s Sam Cossar-Gilbert.
"The TPP chapters on technical barriers to trade will threaten regulators’ capacities to effectively regulate the roughly 85,000 chemicals in commerce needed to protect human health and our environment."
The negotiated trade pact still has to pass the parliaments of Australia, the United States, Canada, Brunei Darussalam, Singapore, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Peru, New Zealand, Vietnam and Mexico.
Robb said the deal is not expected to be in place until the “middle of next year at the earliest.”
“It is something that will set up the next decade and in fact this agreement will set the pattern for trade deals all around the world.”