Editorial: We need the business case for the TPP

Trade Minister Steve Ciobo with PM Malcolm Turnbull. Photo: Fairfax.
Trade Minister Steve Ciobo with PM Malcolm Turnbull. Photo: Fairfax.

It is not often that I agree with the increasingly erratic Bob Katter but I share his concern over the newly revamped Trans Pacific Partnership though for different reasons.

The TPP is a trade agreement between Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam signed in January.

It is a similar list of countries that established a TPP in 2016 with the notable absentee of the United States, which pulled out of the agreement on the election of Donald Trump as president.

It is arguable that the trade deal is improved with the US out because it no longer has clauses protecting copyright and American intellectual property but the deal remains troubling.

It shouldn’t be, because free trade is essential a good thing.

If one country is good at growing oranges and another country excels with apple orchards, it is mutually beneficial that oranges and apples are freely traded across the two borders with no tariffs and a set of common laws.

But we may be comparing apples and oranges here.

The problem is we simply do not know what is in the agreement as the government has refused to show us the text.

The Government is sticking to its line about economic benefits saying more trade and exports equals more jobs.

They may be right but working out how much economic growth can be attributed to a free trade deal is complicated and always challenged.

Labor is demanding they prove this deal stacks up by showing the economic modelling for this new agreement.

Mr Katter went further still, echoing the Trump line that free trade is a bad thing, selling off Australia’s natural reserves.

“It gave away the entire coal seam gas reserves of this nation; $23 billion a year was given away. We gave it away for six cents a gigajoule and we bought it back for $16 a gigajoule,” he said.

There is some truth to his argument we are “selling the farm” but undeniable too is the fact Australia needs foreign investment to thrive in a connected world.

The TPP may or may not help, but we need to see the economic case to judge  – Derek Barry