As business groups welcomed the news, academics, unions and consumers groups in Australia, New Zealand and United States are warning about the hidden dangers.
BA: Professor Jane Kelsey, from Auckland University, speaking with Jemima Garrett. and Professor Kelsey's new book is called 'No Ordinary Deal: Unmaking the Trans-Pacific Partnership. It will be lauched in Sydney tonight.
4:30 ...need to experience.
4:38 ..engaging with that model.
GARRETT: APEC leaders endorsed plans to create and Asia Pacific Free Trade zone. While they did not mention the Trans Pacific Partnership, or TPP, it's now the only trade vehicle on offer.
So far 9 countries have signed up for TPP negotiations - Australia, Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, Singapore, Peru, the United States, Vietnam and Malaysia.
Pat Ranald, Convenor of the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network, says the Trans Pacific Partnership threatens the ability of governments to make regulations to protect vulnerable consumers.
RANALD: Our big concern is that the US corporate organisations of business organisations are still saying that they want more changes to the pharmaceutical benefit scheme, they don't want our price controls on medicines, they want an end to things like GE labelling, labelling of GE food and they want more changes to Australian content rules in areas like film and television and other media. They are still seeing all these things as barriers to trade, which they can tackle through such an agreement.
GARRETT: Consumer, environmental and labour groups are also concerned about new rights the Trans Pacific Partnership might give to business the to sue governments that impose rules that damage their investments.
Lori Wallach, Director of the Global Trade Watch division of the Washington-based consumer advocacy group, Public Citizen, says the US has had a bad experience with similar arrangements in the North American Free Trade Agreement.
WALLACH: Four hundred million dollars has been paid out to corporations over a tax on the most basic regulatory policy of zoning and licences and bans on toxics, even court case rulings, the court systems, a violation of the new trade agreement, investor rights. But then in addition, we have had to defend all of these cases, as have Mexico and Canada, millions of taxpayer dollars have been spent in this nuisance defences and now increasingly, when one of the corporations attacks, using the so-called trade agreement investor rights, ...... initiative, so Canada's plain packaging law for tobacco was attacked with a .....and they rolled back
GARRETT: At the APEC meeting in Yokohama, the Japanese Prime Minister, Naoto Kan, said Japan is considering joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations and, for the first time suggested his country, would be willing to give way on agriculture.
Fair Trade advocate and Auckland University Law Professor, Jane Kelsey, says more debate is needed.
PROFESSOR JANE KELSEY: All of the furore around Japan and thinking that Japan will come in. Some of us actually would be quite pleased if Japan came in, because it would slow the process down and it would generate some debate about what this is about. But the notion that this could be an APEC wide FTA I think the statement that came out from the APEC leaders just yesterday has shown that that's a remote and highly unlikely outcome even decades ahead. Yet certainly in talking to our negotiators, it's being used as the justification for a deal that has really no other rationale.
GARRETT: In the United States, the impact of the global financial crisis has swelled Republican and Democratic opposition to new free trade deals, but as Lori Wallach points out, President Obama's enthusiasm for the the Trans Pacific Partnership has other motives.
PROFESSOR JANE KELSEY: The TTP and the administration's obsession with a clear free trade agreement is all geo-political, which is to say from the administrations perspective, they see it as a way to counter China. It's about foreign policy.
GARRETT: The ailing Doha round of world trade negotiations was supposed to help developing countries but now more US effort is focussed on the Trans Pacific partnership.
Jane Kelsey says the content of the TPP needs rethinking.
PROFESSOR JANE KELSEY: This agreement is being promoted as an agreement for the 21st century. What are the challenges for the 21st century? Climate change, resource depletion, financial instability, inequalities, the whole range of issues we have in the Pacific debates all the time. This is an opportunity to rethink what a trade agreement for the 21st century might mean. Instead, we're having the same recycled economic rationalised kind of model and that's the last thing the Pacific Island governments and people need to experience. And I think there are very positive signs coming out from the Pacific, that the leaders are actually thinking twice about engaging with that model.
GARRETT: Many of the Pacific Islands main trading partners will become part of the Trans Pacific partnership if it goes ahead. Will that cause problems for them?
PROFESSOR JANE KELSEY: I think the problems will arise on a number of fronts. One obviously is Australia and New Zealand's pressure on PACER Plus. But the second is the influence of China within the Pacific and obviously part of Australia and New Zealand's objectives with PACER Plus is similar to the US objective with the TPP of neutralising China's interests.