Inaugural negotiations for a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) aimed at creating an ambitious regional free trade zone were launched in Melbourne on 15 March.
Australian Trade Minister Simon Crean told reporters that the negotiations are “very significant” and could form the basis of a “free trade are for the Asia-Pacific”.
Countries participating in the TPP negotiations are Australia, Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam.
Crean said the talks will be comprehensive and cover all sectors in agriculture, goods, services and investment.
“We've approached this on the basis that everything is on the table,” Crean said. “No exclusions.”
The sweeping nature of the talks prompted labour leaders from Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and the United States to issue an unprecedented joint statement calling on negotiators to respect labour rights and the environment.
“[We] are not opposed in principle to trade agreements,” the statement says. “As always, however, the agreement will not have our support unless it is well balanced, foments the creation of good jobs, protects the rights and interests of working people, leads to long-term, balanced economic development and promotes a healthy environment.”
Australian Confederation of Trade Unions President Sharan Burrow said the proposed agreement must deliver more for working people in all the nations than previous free trade agreements have done.
“We cannot afford another trade agreement that opens the doors for investment and profits by big multinational corporations but fails to create good jobs for workers,” Burrow said.
Four more rounds of TPP talks are planned for this year, with the next round tentatively scheduled for June.