Australia gained some last-minute concessions in the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations. But this is still the wrong way to manage our international trade and investment

The announcement of an agreed text for the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, or TPP, brings to an end years of negotiation by thousands of officials and corporate lobbyists. Although the ratification of the deal still requires the consent of national legislatures, including the US Congress and Australian parliament, it now appears likely to be a done deal. So, what are the benefits and costs of the TPP?

The short answer, as it has been throughout the process, is that we don’t know. The negotiations were conducted in secret and the final text remains secret. What we have are two kinds of leaks: deliberate leaks from government officials, seeking to put the most favourable spin on the deal, and the unauthorised leaks of negotiating drafts, obtained and published by WikiLeaks.

Still, it’s already clear that, considered as a trade deal, this agreement is very small beer. Australia has long since removed import quotas and reduced tariffs to the very low levels consistent with a standard tax system. Our approach to these deals has been to make concessions on non-trade issues in the hope of gaining access to markets for our agricultural products – a strategy that has yielded only minimal dividends. From the limited information we have, it appears that the same is true this time around…

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