After five years of largely secretive negotiation, 12 countries have agreed on terms for the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).
But the full text of the enormous trade deal – covering some 40 percent of global GDP – remains unreleased, causing many long-time TPP observers to withhold judgement on the deal, particularly as it affects the tech sector.
“We still need to see the final ‘ugly compromises’,” QUT Professor in Intellectual Property and Innovation Law Matthew Rimmer told The Conversation.
“There is a concern that the TPP will be hostile to disruptive technologies and innovation in the digital economy.
“There are also fears as to the impact of the TPP upon privacy, consumer rights, freedom of speech, local content rules, and network neutrality.”
In lieu of the full text, several countries – including Australia – have released summaries of the TPP’s key areas, making it possible, at least at a high level, to get some sense of what has been agreed in the deal’s 30 chapters.
Already gaining attention are provisions that stop TPP signatories from demanding companies build local data centres to combat data sovereignty concerns.
“The 12 parties … agree not to require that TPP companies build data centres to store data as a condition for operating in a TPP market, and, in addition, that source code of software is not required to be transferred or accessed,” a summary released by US trade negotiators said.
Data sovereignty has been an ongoing issue for US-based cloud providers seeking to service the Australian market.
Also gaining attention is a chapter devoted to telecommunications, which appears to encourage regulatory intervention on connectivity and international roaming.
“TPP parties commit to ensure that major telecommunications services suppliers in their territory provide interconnection, leased circuit services, co-location, and access to poles and other facilities under reasonable terms and conditions and in a timely manner,” the US summary stated.
“TPP parties recognise the importance of relying on market forces and commercial negotiations in the telecommunications sector.
“They also agree that they may take steps to promote competition in international mobile roaming services and facilitate the use of alternatives to roaming.”
Part of the TPP referenced in summaries released by Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) cites measures to foster innovation between TPP countries.
The measures aim to encourage “private foreign investment in non-sensitive sectors”, protect the intellectual property of Australian companies seeking to expand in the trade zone, and make it easier for “skilled professionals” to move between member countries.
Attention is also paid to how TPP might help grow Australian services exports, such as in ICT.
Australian Centre for Financial Studies executive director Amy Auster opined in The Conversation that it was services – rather than agriculture – where Australia would see much of the benefit of TPP rules.
“In the services economy, what are the critical barriers to and enablers of growth? A safe and secure digital environment, the ability to set up shop offshore quickly and easily, the certainty of delivery from offshore vendors and the confidence that contractual obligations will be enforced should things go wrong,” she said.
“By all accounts, this is what the TPP will start to address.”
Though the TPP text has been agreed, member countries are now said to be performing “technical works” in preparation for a public release of the full text, although no date has been set for this to occur.
DFAT noted that the full text would be released before Australia’s parliament was asked to ratify the treaty.
“TPP parties will finalise arrangements for the release of the TPP text, and it will be released well in advance of signature,” it said.