Wry & Dry

Free trade. Where?

In a PR exercise of managing good news rivaling that needed by Volkswagen to manage bad news, the federal government loudly trumpeted the 'Trans-Pacific Partnership' (i.e. sort-of-free-trade agreement) on Monday.  Delightful stories of Trade Minister Robb's unbending negotiating style filled the boxed columns.

And quite right, too.  To a certain extent.

The TPP is a 12-nation agreement (US, Japan, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Chile, New Ziland, Brunei, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and Australia) that lowers trade barriers, establishes a common framework for intellectual property and enforces labour law standards.  South Korea, the Philippines, Taiwan and Colombia are keen to join.  China was not included because its state-owned enterprises couldn't meet the rules for private companies competing with government companies.

But the agreement has to be ratified by each country.  Which might take years.  US president Obama is a strong supporter of the agreement, but wannabee president Hillary Clinton, a strong advocate when she was Secretary of State, has flip-flopped as only a person seeking election might - she doesn't want to upset unions in a year when she is campaigning to be wife of the First Gentleman, as it were.  

Ah, the death hand of politics.  But it's not only Clinton who opposes the TPP.  The usual vested US interests have lined up against it.

W&D is a little skeptical of the deal - the details are hidden.  Of course, there will be a major benefit to Australian agriculture.  But somewhere in the fine print there has to be disadvantage, subtly hidden.  And, inevitably, somewhere a farming group will whinge.