Peru-Australia agreement a sign of negotiating weakness rather than strength

The government is hailing the free trade agreement with Peru as the fastest Australia has ever negotiated. There's a reason for that.

Negotiations began in May this year, after it became apparent that President Trump would pull the United States out of the 12-nation Trans Pacific Partnership agreement, signed but not ratified by the United States and 11 other nations in February last year.

The so-called TPP 11 are trying to go it alone, or at least some of them are. It's rules say it can't come into force without the US. But a near-identical agreement could come into force, and could even include a clause allowing the US to join later, under another president.

Australia and Japan are keen. The other nine are less keen, and Canada, led by Justin Trudeau, is close to hostile.

When Australia and Japan hinted on Friday that an agreement was close, Canada's trade minister Francois-Philippe Champagne took to Twitter to declare it was not.

"Despite reports, there is no agreement in principle on TPP," he tweeted twice, once in French and once in English.

Canada doesn't want it right now because it is in the middle of negotiations with the United States about reworking the North America Free Trade Agreement. It's unclear whether it wants it at all.

Which is where the Peru-Australia Free Trade Agreement comes in. Peru and Australia were to be part of the TPP, and Australia was to get special access for sugar and other exports. It's been able to salvage that by cutting and pasting the Peru-Australia bits of the TPP into a standalone agreement.

Bringing it forward is a sign of despondency about the prospect of a TPP 11 rather than a sign of confidence.

Peter Martin is economics editor of The Age.

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This story Peru-Australia agreement a sign of negotiating weakness rather than strength first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.