Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has hailed a new 12-country trade deal which covers 40 per cent of the global economy as a “gigantic foundation stone” for Australia.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was clinched in the US city of Atlanta overnight after days of marathon talks and could influence everything from the price of cheese to the cost of cancer treatments.
The controversial deal involves Australia, Canada, the United States, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, Singapore and Vietnam.
It is expected to face great difficulties getting through a hostile US Congress and is also looking shaky in Canada, which is facing an imminent national election.
The Australian Government also has to convince parliament to back the agreement, Labor is seeking a briefing about the closely held detail of the deal.
“There are winners and losers but overwhelmingly this will drive enormous job growth and create all sorts of wonderful opportunities,” Trade Minister Andrew Robb said.
Under the deal 98 per cent of tariffs across TPP countries will be slashed on products including beef, dairy, wine, sugar, rice, horticulture, seafood, manufactured products, resources and energy.
Last year, about a third of Australian exports – worth $109 billion – went to TPP countries.
Mr Turnbull said he discussed the deal directly with US president Barack Obama last week and said he had spent many hours on the phone in recent days helping to seal the deal.
“These deals are win-win,” Mr Turnbull told Melbourne radio station 3AW.
“There are concessions all over the place, it is by its nature a negotiation.”
Disagreement between Australia and the US on how long pharmaceutical companies could retain intellectual property rights over their products threatened to derail the talks, but a last-minute deal was struck.
“This deal has no impact on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. We believe we’ve got the balance right,” Mr Turnbull said.
‘We look forward to more detail’: Labor
The Federal Opposition said the deal had “significant potential benefits” but it wanted to examine the fine details.
“We said a red line for us was ensuring that there would be no impact on the accessibility and affordability of medicines in this country,” Labor’s trade spokeswoman Penny Wong said.
“I understand that Mr Robb has said that he’s delivered on that. We’ll look forward to seeing the detail of that agreement.”
The Greens are critical of the secrecy surrounding the deal, sceptical about the economic benefits and worried Australia could be sued under investor-state dispute settlement provisions.
“What is clear is that carve-outs have failed in previous agreements,” Greens trade spokesman Peter Whish-Wilson said.
“They haven’t stopped corporations taking strategic litigation through these shady tribunals in other parts of the world, and we don’t expect they will work here.”
In the US, the deal is seen as a legacy-defining achievement for president Barack Obama but it still has to be ratified by a sceptical and often hostile Congress.
Mr Obama said the deal “levelled the playing field” for farmers and manufacturers “by eliminating more than 18,000 taxes that various countries put on our products”.
“It includes the strongest commitments on labour and the environment of any trade agreement in history, and those commitments are enforceable, unlike past agreements,” Mr Obama said in a statement released by The White House.
Critics have said the deal threatens to hurt jobs and consumers across the globe.
The deal has taken five years of negotiations and it will be some time until the full details are released.
However, the deal has already raised concerns from at least one Coalition backbencher, with LNP member George Christensen threatening to cross the floor.
The Queensland MP said the outcomes for Australia’s sugar industry look to fall short of what was hoped for in terms of the deal with the US.
“I will be reserving my right to cross the floor on the deal, depending on the outcome of other factors plaguing the sugar industry,” he said.
“I’m very disappointed at how the land of the free has determined to block free trade and deny our sugar growers access to their market.”