UPDATE: A new plan has been hatched that will allow the House to vote on a decoupled TPA Bill and then send that back to the Senate. The vote will happen Thursday USA time, the numbers are unclear at this stage.
A crucial vote in the USA failed to pass on the 12th June, potentially putting the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) on ice for a number of years.
The TPP has a track-record of missing deadlines, but the latest is a severe blow to the viability of the agreement. The US Congressional vote was on a measure known as Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) or “Fast Track”. If passed TPA would mean that the US Congress could only vote yes or no to the agreement, and not demand changes to the text. Other countries are hesitant to put final offers on the table until they are sure the US Congress will not have a second bite of the negotiation cherry, especially in contentious areas such as intellectual property (IP) and market access. The general consensus has been that unless TPA is passed, the TPP will not get done.
Confusingly, the TPA component of yesterday’s Bill did pass, but not the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) component. Because they were bundled together it means that TPA cannot proceed unless TAA is also given the green light. The move against the TAA was made by Democrats in order to stop TPA, which has majority (if not unanimous) support from the Republicans, and is being pushed by Democratic President Obama.
It looks likely that there will be another attempt at getting the Bill through Congress on Tuesday, but if that fails the window of opportunity to get TPA through before US election may close.
The deal has been controversial in Australia. Serious concerns have been raised over the content of the IP chapter, including concerns over copyright, internet censorship and the effect on medicines and health. The inclusion of Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), which allows companies to sue governments for decisions that affect their investments, has also caused concern. Australia is currently fighting an ISDS case with Philip Morris over plain packaging laws, and there are concerns that ISDS could imperil overdue copyright reforms such as fair use, as well as environmental and health measures.
The Agriculture Minister, Barnaby Joyce, has stated that Australia will only sign the agreement ‘if it is better than the status quo’ and Trade Minister, Andrew Robb, has repeatedly tried to downplay fears on IP. However, with the entire agreement being conducted in secret, with only sporadic leaks to guide stakeholders and experts, concerns remain, as noted by the recently launched cross-party working group, led by Labor’s Melissa Parke, Greens’ Peter Whish-Wilson and Independent Nick Xenophon. One issue the groups raised was the lack of parliamentary oversight of the deal in australia. speaking on the failed US vote, Senator Whish-Wilson noted:
what this heated US debate does highlight is the dismal lack of parliamentary oversight in Australia in how we as a nation negotiate and evaluate these deals.The Australian parliament’s involvement in the TPP treaty process is already set at fast track and will be nothing but a rubber stamp…. it is telling that the fate of the TPP which will cut across all aspects of Australian regulation will primarily be decided in a foreign parliament and not in our own.
Whether that group is busy over the next few months will now rest on a decision of the Congressional Democrats. All eyes will be watching as internal US politics determine the outcome of the 12 party deal.
Over 20,000 people have signed the petition for fair copyright in the #TPP at http://ourfairdeal.org/