Five years of negotiations could be drawing to a close as soon as next week. Members of the Trans Pacific Partnership – a free trade agreement – are hoping to have all deals done and signatures on the agreements by the end of the first week in August.

But there is still much that is unknown about the agreement. Negotiators have had to withhold publishing their offers so that they can leverage the best deal from other members. It means Australians are having a trade deal signed on their behalf with no idea of what it will cost them and no idea of the benefits.

Much speculation exists about the roles and rights of intellectual property that may see the creation of new laws against online piracy.

But in the wider context the major economies are jostling for power. By opening new markets and reducing tariffs these economies will be ensuring their wealth for generations to come.

Andrew Robb, the Australian trade and investment minister, said the aim of the TPP was to level the playing field between private business and state owned enterprises in the arena of commercial activities.

“In traditional areas the government is working hard to deliver commercially meaningful outcomes for Australian agricultural exports such as beef, dairy, grains, sugar, horticulture, seafood, and wine, as well as securing gains for our resources and energy exports, manufactured and other goods.”

But in an article Shiro Armstrong of the Australian National University warned negotiators that the days prior to signing the agreement were the most crucial.

“The temptation,” wrote Armstrong, “will be strong to rush across the finish line for what will be a major political trophy – but the risk is that the TPP will be an agreement that does more harm than good for economic and political relations in the Asia Pacific.”

Australia may benefit by

  • Access to Asian markets currently closed to it.
  • Streamlined operational set up with the 12 member countries of the TPP.
  • The creation of a partnership worth more than $200 billion.
  • Possible access to the lucrative Japanese market, Canadian dairy market.
  • Huge new markets for Australian resources.

There are, however, concerns that the Australian pharmaceutical industry will be wiped out by cheaper US imports.

There are also worrying concerns about dispute settlement provisions between investors and states.For instances, the US cigarette giant Philip Morris has already attempted to sue the Australian government over its plain packaging rules. But there currently exit no rules allowing US companies to directly sue the Australian government.

The creation of such rules will be a double-edged sword: At once protecting investors in the TPP, but will also open the way for legal proceedings against our government.

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