Pacific Pact Side Deals Still Not Final, Australian Official Says

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By Murray Griffin

There’s a good reason side deals to a new Asia-Pacific trade pact haven’t been released. With just days to go until signing, they haven’t all been completed.

“There are still some that are being negotiated as we speak,” a senior Australian official told a Senate committee hearing in Canberra.

Justin Brown, deputy secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, was referring to side-letters to the new the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).

Senior officials from the pact’s 11 member countries, also known as the TPP-11, are slated to sign the pact March 8 in Santiago, and they will release their various side-letters after signing the main agreement the same day. It is standard practice not to release side-letters until after the signing of a trade agreement, Brown said.

Australia will keep in place all the side letters it finished with other countries during talks for the original Trans-Pacific Partnership, with the obvious exceptions of those negotiated with the U.S., Brown told the senators late March 1.

Among the side letters that will roll over from the first agreement are three with Canada—on dairy, distinctive products (which ensures only whiskey made in Canada may be sold in Australia as Canadian whiskey), and wine and spirits. They also include one with Japan outlining the process for determining access to Japan’s rice market, and three with Vietnam dealing with foreign investment in Vietnamese airlines, online education, and electronic payment services.

The original side letters with the U.S. would have suspended certain provisions in the bilateral free trade agreement between the two countries that deal with intellectual property and tariff rate quotas for beef and dairy. Another would have reaffirmed provisions in the bilateral pact that deal with transparency and procedural fairness for pharmaceutical products, while yet another would have provided for future consultation on the possibility of modifying Australia’s access to the U.S. sugar market.

Ten New Side Letters

The country also will have 10 new side-letters this time around, he added, bringing its new total to about 30.

Brown told the hearing that Australia doesn’t have any insights into side letters that various TPP-11 countries might sign with each other that don’t affect Australian interests. “Some side letters involve all parties, some are bilateral,” he said.

Brown declined to provide details on Australia’s new side letters.

Commenting on the benefits of the agreement itself for Australian farmers, Brown said it will provide them with preferential access to the Japanese market, “particularly in the beef sector.”

Australian exporters will gain far more competitive access to Japan than a country such as the U.S., which doesn’t have a preferential agreement with Japan, he said.

President Donald Trump yanked the U.S. out of the TPP shortly after taking office in January 2017. The 11 countries in the new pact are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam.

Australia already has free trade agreements with eight of the TPP-11 countries. The three countries it doesn’t have accords with are Canada, Mexico, and Peru. In the case of Peru, however, the two countries signed an agreement in February, but it has yet to be ratified.

To contact the reporter responsible for this story: Murray Griffin in Melbourne at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jerome Ashton at

For More Information

The transcript of the Australian Senate hearing will be available at

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