Ministers and senior officials from the remaining 11 TPP countries have just finished meeting in Chile to discuss the future of the agreement. Aside from general platitudes about the importance of free trade the communique is a bit disappointing. The good news is that there has been agreement to another meeting of Senior Officials sometime in the next month, and that Ministers will meet again in the margins of the APEC Trade Ministers Meeting in May. The bad news is that there is clearly no consensus on the way forward. Prior to the meeting just concluded it had been hoped that there would be agreement that all parties would continue to at least ratify TPP as it stands in the hope that the US will change its attitude and sign back on. Agreement was not even possible on this.
Another option would be to re-negotiate the TPP entry into force provisions so that it could enter into force without the US. Not all members are happy about this possibility. Some don’t want to implement some of the intellectual property, state owned enterprise, and pharmaceutical provisions in the current version of TPP as they would benefit only US companies (Why let the US free ride?). Others say that if the entry into force provisions are to be negotiated “why not re-negotiate other provisions such as agriculture?”
A meeting of Pacific Alliance Ministers was also held in Chile following the TPP Ministerial meeting. The Pacific Alliance involves Mexico, Colombia, Peru and Chile. The good news emerging from this meeting was agreement that the Alliance will begin to look at expansion. This offers the possibility of New Zealand involvement. Mexico and Colombia are both large economies. By negotiating through the Pacific Alliance we might be able to achieve better outcomes than would be possible bilaterally. New Zealand has been seeking a negotiation over some form of FTA with the Alliance for several years.
Minister McCully has returned from yet another visit to the Persian Gulf with reports of a positive attitude to concluding the FTA with the Gulf Cooperation Council. It would be good if we could move beyond reports of positive atmospherics to an actual outcome.