The more is said, the less is known.
That seems to be the take-away from Wednesday's National Press Club address by the Minister for Trade, Andrew Robb.
The Minister spoke at length about trade agreements, but was short with details about the biggest trade agreement you've never heard of: the uber secretive Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).
Debate in the community isalready hot about free trade agreements, in particular theChina-Australia FTA and the TPP. Much of it ill informed, but some of it quite pertinent.
And like most major policies, the public (read "voters") can only be swept along with those proposed trade agreements when transparency is front and centre. But transparency was not on the menu at the Mr. Robb's address.
The TPP raises many questions, including the implications for Australia with respect to:
- Tax policy: will the TPP raise significant tax revenues for the government or will "tax jurisdiction shopping" be the name of the game for companies feasting on newly secured lower trade barriers?
- Regulatory policy – will the government's hands be tied if they wish to introduce or modify any regulation e.g. health, welfare, education, energy security etc if such a regulatory change potentially impacts on the profitability of foreign investors in Australia?
- Labour policy: will the TPP raise wages for many Australiansor just raise profits, with the offshoring of much labour being "collateral damage of the FTA"? And
- "Economic growth": other than a meaningless percentage figure, what does this mean in terms of job creation and the living standards for many Australians?
Following the Minister's address, Fairfax Media's Peter Martin asked the key question of the day: why has there been no cost benefit analysis of the forthcoming TPP, and with regards to the 10 year old US-Australia FTA, why have the assumptions and hopes upon which that agreement was based, not been examined, 10 years on to verify their accuracy?
No reply was forthcoming that could dislodge the mistrust that many (and not only on the Left) have for secretive deals.
The Minister did however get across to his audience that "free trade" will allow more Australian firms to operate abroad. He cited the many Australian architects working in the PRC and added that "free trade" will also allow for massive foreign investment in Australia.
Two valid points, as far as they go.
But in regards to theTPP:
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