Kieran Gilbert: Thank you for your time. This TPP, it has been five years in the making; how does it stack up as a free trade zone with other international free trade zones in terms of size and scope?

Andrew Robb: Well this is by far the biggest global trade deal in 20 years since the Uruguay round, which was a massive agreement of course covering the whole world. This one is very large by comparison, and is a great complement to the other three agreements we’ve struck – the trifecta of South Korea, Japan and China – so with these four deals we have set Australia up for massive diversification and wonderful opportunities in both jobs and growth over the years ahead.

Kieran Gilbert: In terms of the scope of the deal across sectors, how thorough is this arrangement the TPP, in comparison to those deals that you refer to, the trifecta of those North Asian free trade deals? 

Andrew Robb: Because we have negotiated with eleven other countries it has enabled us to capture another series of new markets, in many cases some emerging economies like Vietnam, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Canada – we have no deals with Canada – so not only do we have a greater diversity of countries involved, but we have a lot more depth and breadth in terms of opportunities. This is a great complement to the very specific deals we have done with those three big North Asian partners of ours, and as I say it is going to be a very comprehensive coverage of our region, especially if we can succeed with the Indian agreement later on this year.     

Kieran Gilbert: Well there is breadth certainly across a dozen countries, is there the depth though in terms of the tariff reductions, are they comparable with the likes of Japan and Korea and the yet to be formalised deal with China?   

Andrew Robb: Absolutely. In fact in some of the cases like Japan, which is part of the TPP as well as a bilateral agreement country, they have gone even further with things like beef, we’ve got rice into Japan for the first time in 20 years, we’ve got all tariffs taken off horticulture across the other eleven countries, the same with wine and all sorts of different products, food products, aquaculture products, services across the board; education, health, financial services, architectural services, so many things across so many countries, and it has really presented enormous opportunities for Australian businesses both large and small.  

Kieran Gilbert: We know that you had said that there was a red line for Australia when it comes to biologic medicines and that the US had wanted to extend the monopoly period to eight years when ours is currently five years. Even though you have had that win at the weekend with the US relenting on that, but I just want to read to you a statement that Medicines Sans Frontiers have released already in the wake of the trade deal, that the TPP will go down in history as the worst trade agreement for access to medicines in developing countries, which will be forced to change their laws to incorporate abusive intellectual property protections for pharmaceutical companies. What do you say to that sort of criticism from MSF and others?

Andrew Robb: I must say to you that through the whole negotiation those smaller countries like Peru, Chile, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei, all these countries were saying to me please could you hold the line because if you don’t, we will be faced with not just eight but perhaps 12 years of data protection, which is what the US had had on the table. 

Now all of them said they could live with five but they couldn’t live with anything higher, and they were putting all their hopes on us being able to stand our ground with the United States and some of the other countries. We did do that and I can tell you that all of those smaller countries who are absolutely sensitive to what happened with pharmaceutics, had a big grin on their faces when we all shook on this deal. 

Kieran Gilbert: One of the industries that has complained in recent times for being excluded from those bilateral deals that you spoke about is sugar. How does sugar fair in this deal and more broadly agriculture – what sorts of benefits will the Australian agricultural sector receive from the TPP in your view? 
Andrew Robb: It is a great deal for agriculture. Lots of new opportunities for meats, for cereals, for dairy, for all of horticulture, for wine; you name it across the board it’s very good, and for the first time we’ve got rice.

On the issue of sugar, they have been finding if very difficult with any agreements for a long time to get further access; it is a very sensitive issue in a lot of the region – especially amongst the developing or emerging countries – but this time we did succeed in doubling the average amount of sugar that our producers can expect to sell to the United States each year.

From 107,000 tonnes on average with an 87,000 based quota, to now a 152,000 base quota with an expectation of around 207,000 tonnes when taking extra allocation into account; so nearly a doubling. 

But also we increased the opportunities for when there is greater demand in the United States, and there is expected to be an extra million tonnes over the next two or three years that can’t be satisfied by the US producers; we are going to get not eight per cent of that, we are going to get 23 per cent so we could see in even two to three years the 200,000 tonnes grow to over 400,000 tonnes. So it is still not what we wanted, it’s not what our growers wanted but it is a far better outcome than what the industry has had for 15 years now.  

Kieran Gilbert: If we look at this issue, the TPP, as part of the Obama foreign policy legacy, it is really seen as the economic arm of his pivot to Asia and the Asia-Pacific, that is how it has been described.  But one country that’s not included in this is China; Minister , how much of this is about a strategic focus from the United States to include its allies and nations of similar mind in terms of shoring up its position in the region against a burgeoning and rising China?

Andrew Robb: This deal has been going for five years and in fact it was started by a number of countries, not including the United States, so the United States has come on board more in recent years.

The genesis of this was certainly to find a more seamless trade between a large part of this region, and in fact 40 per cent of the world’s GDP is covered by this agreement and this means that we have a common set of rules; paperless customs arrangements, things that are pretty boring in many respects, but they are very important to the cost of doing business and cutting through the red tape and the frustrations – this has been one objective.

I do think the United States is keen to see, like the rest of us, an Asia Pacific agreement in due course, and we’re involved with China and Indian and other ASEAN countries with a similar type of TPP agreement called the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, and if we put those two together, in due course we will have one Asia Pacific agreement, and that objective I know, is jointly shared by China and the United States.   

Kieran Gilbert: A couple of questions before you go, I know you have to get to the airport; will this deal undermine environmental protections and climate action generally? That is the view or the view expressed by the Greens and some environmental groups

Andrew Robb: We have been successful in getting the United States for the first time, to incorporate in the Investor State Dispute Settlement mechanism – which has been the worry for the Greens and others – that there will be safeguards for public policy decisions to do with health and to do with the environment.

On top of that we were successful in getting a total blanket ban on tobacco companies being able to use the ISDS in any circumstances, so I think we have had a huge move forward.

Kieran Gilbert: In terms of the copyright regime, does that protect legacy industries or will it benefit those disruptive industries that the Prime Minister has spoken about in recent times?

Andrew Robb: It certainly does try and bring a set of rules for, as you call it disruptive industries, but it’s the 21st century technology, it’s the digital technology, it’s the internet based commerce, it is the things that are opening the doors for hundreds of thousands of our small businesses to engage themselves in direct trade within the region.  So it is very important to bring in a set of rules and facilitate and remove areas for dispute so businesses can get on with it.

At the same time we have sought to look after the publication business and other traditional businesses; there has been a little pressure coming on them over recent years – quite outside of this TPP – but the big benefit will be for the 21st century industries, because they are playing such a fundamental part in opening up the new age opportunities; driving innovation but most particularly for our small and medium business, opening up a customer base of literally billions of people in the region around us.

Kieran Gilbert: And Minister finally my last question relates to the next hurdle I guess for the deal which is for the signatories to get their parliamentary approval; there is always some doubt about that in Congress and if you look at Canada, this deal is negotiated during an election campaign by a caretaker government with one of the opposition parties saying they will not be bound by the deal – so there is a fair bit of uncertainty as to the way forward in terms of ratification?

Andrew Robb: All of the countries involved certainly need to ratify. Once we’ve signed this deal in a few months’ time they will all need to go and get ratification from their parliamentary systems. The United States, and everyone else I think, have had a very keen eye on the passage of the subsequent legislation and the deal within their parliamentary systems, as I have, and I feel they’ve all made a keen political judgement.

I think the deal that we have ended up with does capture so much opportunity for the region; new growth and new jobs so I think that they are quite confident, and while it won’t necessarily be easy in every case, they’re all quite confident that they can get this thing through.

Kieran Gilbert: Trade Minister Andrew Robb from Atlanta, thanks a lot for your time after a big few days for you; I appreciate it. 

Andrew Robb: Thanks very much; I appreciate the opportunity.

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