Trade talks make progress
21st November 2011 by Andrew Matheson, | 6 Comments
Good news for consumers and businesses. Trade negotiators around the world are scoring some big wins, as they work on agreements to make it easier for businesses to succeed internationally and give consumers better access to products and services.
The circle is now complete for the ASEAN Australia New Zealand Free Trade Agreement, or AANZFTA, which New Zealand and the Philippines are both members of. The agreement came into force almost two years ago and both countries were in it from the beginning. More countries joined later, and membership is about to be completed following the annoucement that AANZFTA will soon enter into force for Indonesia . This is important news. Indonesia is the world’s fourth-most populous country, and its economy accounts for more than one-third of ASEAN’s gross domestic product.
AANZFTA is a high-quality agreement that benefits all countries in the region. Now negotiations are over and membership is complete, businesses in the region have to make the most of the opportunities this free trade agreement presents. I’ve enjoyed working with colleagues in the Australian embassy, the Philippine government and business groups to help spread the word about AANZFTA in the Philippines.
The month of November has also seen good news about the Trans-Pacific Partnership or TPP. This is a free trade agreement being negotiated by nine countries in the region, including New Zealand which was one of the architects of the original Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. The leaders of the nine negotiating countries announced that they had agreed on the broad outline of the agreement, and that the detailed negotiations would be completed within a year. It’s an ambitious target, just as the leaders have set an ambitious goal of a high-quality, comprehensive trade agreement.
Japan has now said that it wants to join the nine countries negotiating the TPP, something New Zealand’s trade minister has welcomed while restating our goal of a comprehensive and high-quality agreement. Canada and Mexico have also announced their wish to become part of the negotiation. It’s hoped that the TPP will eventually expand to include other Asia-Pacific countries, potentially including the Philippines, if they share the goal of shaping a regional agreement with the high standards worthy of a 21st century trade agreement.
And let’s not forget the World Trade Organization either. The Doha round might be moving more slowly than WTO members originally expected, but the organisation is still making progress. After 18 years of work on joining the WTO (yes, accession negotiations can take a long time too), the terms for Russia to join the organisation have been agreed so the country can become a WTO member next month. This means all the world’s major economies will be part of the trading rules system that the WTO establishes. For New Zealand, Russia joining the WTO is particularly important as we are negotiating a free trade agreement with Russia and its customs union partners Belarus and Kazakhstan.
The WTO is not only for larger countries, and two tiny countries in New Zealand’s part of the world are on the verge of joining. Samoa should become a member at the meeting next month of WTO trade ministers. The accession package for Vanuatu has been agreed by WTO members, and if ratified by Vanuatu by the end of December the country will become the WTO’s 154th member.
Free trade agreements may seem like dry stuff, and reading the text of one would give most people a headache. But the end result is that they can make a real difference to ordinary people’s lives — businesses and consumers alike. As a member of the Association of South-East Asian Nations the Philippines has a ringside seat as the economies of this region become more closely integrated, a process New Zealand is certainly a part of.