Australia Confident Pacific Trade Deal Will Win Needed Backing

  • Hillary Clinton has voiced opposition to the TPP agreement
  • Australia's Andrew Robb says deal is likely to go ahead

The trade deal agreed on this month by the U.S. and 11 other Pacific-rim nations is important enough to the interests of participating countries that it’ll likely secure approval even if Hillary Clinton is elected president next year, according to Australian Trade Minister Andrew Robb.

While nations that make up about 40 percent of the global economy last week struck an accord on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, it still needs to be ratified by domestic lawmakers in each of the countries and could face obstacles. One of those might be Clinton, who is battling to secure the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination and last week voiced opposition to the pact.

The agreement, which was announced after final talks in Atlanta, includes provisions to guarantee intellectual property rights for drugmakers and reduce tariffs on goods from food to cars. While it doesn’t include some large Pacific nations such as China and Indonesia, it does encompass economies including Japan, Australia, Canada and Singapore.

“In the end this deal is so significant, not only from a commercial but from a strategic point of view to the United States, that in the end no matter who’s in government, who’s president, I think this thing will go through,” Robb said in an interview on Sunday with Sky News.

Tightening Race

Clinton, who had been generally supportive of the TPP when she was secretary of state under President Barack Obama, said in an interview with PBS last week that she didn’t believe the accord would meet the “high bar” she has set for it and that she wasn’t in favor of what she’d learned about it so far.

Her conditional opposition to the deal comes as opinion polls indicate a tightening race within the Democratic Party, with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders boosting his presence and Vice President Joe Biden yet to indicate whether he will get into the contest for America’s top job. Both Sanders and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, another contender for the nomination, have been outspoken in their opposition to the TPP.

In the U.S., resistance to the plan also comes from companies and industries that aren’t getting the protections they sought, as well as labor groups who say the accord will safeguard corporate profits at the expense of workers.

Selling the Deal

“We all had an eye all through the negotiations on what we could sell back home,” said Robb. “This has got to be acceptable to your own community otherwise there’s not much point going through it all.”

He said that negotiators, including those from the U.S., came to an agreement last week because they judged that ultimately local lawmakers will approve the deal.

“If we had not settled at this meeting in Atlanta, the chances are with elections and the rest that are really upon us as a group of countries, I suspect this would have been punted off to a year or two,” said Robb. “If you miss the opportunity, sometimes it never comes back.”

For Australia, the deal follows a series of separate free trade agreements with Japan, South Korea and China under the current Liberal-National government.

“We have, I think, started to put some real architecture in place which will help us move, steer our way from the dominant last 15 years of resource-based economy, and help us diversify in a very material way,” Robb said.

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