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The negotiated positions of parties to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement will be crucial in developing other free trade pacts that are either emerging or on the table now, even if the current negotiations fail, says International Trade Minister Tim Groser.
Speaking in the Philippines as part of a business delegation in the capital, Manila, Groser said the TPP negotiations were now "at a crucial stage", but that if the talks were to fail, the developments they achieved would still prove useful for the ultimate liberalised trade zone, the Free Trade Area in the Asia-Pacific, otherwise known as FTAAP.
Groser described an era of "competitive liberalisation" in which many of the parties to the TPP negotiations might still pursue trade liberalisation through the Chinese-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or RCEP.
"The rules negotiations are extremely advanced," said Groser of the TPP negotiations. That includes in the contentious area of intellectual property, along with e-commerce, new rules for state-owned enterprises, competition policy, government procurement, and the movement of businesspeople "as part of a Services outcome."
Only market access issues remained, and it was not possible to "sign off 21st century rules and ignore 20th century unresolved market access issues", many of them in agriculture.
"The 'TPP bus', if we complete the negotiation, will carry on to other destinations in the Asia Pacific," said Groser. "Though TPP may yet still stumble if governments finally lack the courage to take the final decisive decisions to confront their highly protected sectors, there is every reason to believe TPP will be the decisive influence in creating the entire FTAAP."
The other "mega-regional deal" in play is between the US and Europe, the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP.
The RCEP initiative represents an alternative to the TPP negotiations but includes the huge emerging economies of both China and India, neither of which are part of TPP, while leaving out the US and taking in all of ASEAN, Japan and Australasia.
"If TPP falters, RCEP, either in its current full form or some 'slimmed down' version is likely to take leadership of the process of Asia Pacific integration," Groser said.