The reinvigorated interest of closer relations with the PA by some of the observer states is partly attributed to the uncertain future of the TPP. With a grey cloud over the TPP, the negotiating countries are hoping to update and expand their network of commercial agreements through new channels. It is not a coincidence that, except for Colombia, the rest of original members and all the potential associate members were previous TPP negotiating parties. It would not be a surprise that they would attempt to capitalise on the issues already agreed on the TPP table when negotiating their associate member agreements. I will discuss here some concerns around the future negotiations.
Firstly, as the Pacific Alliance members and the candidates to associate members have started the negotiating process for future commercial agreements of ‘high standards’ it is timely to examine what the original PA members have in mind to put real content into an agreement of this kind. It is necessary to set the expectations and offensive interests that the PA members will put forward as a group rather than individually. Hopefully, the association agreements would be more than a form of a TPP-minus accord, where the concessions made in response to the US pressures in the context of the TPP would be withdrawn from these association agreements, and the rest will be kept untouched in the form of informal diffusion of TPP rules.
It would also be important to set a standard as to how the PA will push to incorporate disciplines in the areas of cooperation that are of interest for the mechanism: (i) movement of persons, (ii) education, (iii) trade facilitation, (iv) science technology and innovation and SMEs. These topics have already entered the realm of PTAs with soft language provisions, and it is the work of the PA members and particularly this years presidency to define the aims to be pursued with associate states in these fields. Agreements with associate members are an opportunity to target more ambitious goals than what has been seen in previous agreements, including TPP while setting up a stronger institutional framework to deal with the implementation of these rules and cooperation initiatives. Current research on regional and global value chains should incorporate the associated dimension to better grasp the potential for trade in goods and services as well as investment.
From a legal perspective, the original members need to have a clearer idea of the effects that subsequent agreements with associate members would have regarding pre-existing bilateral agreements. As seen in the table there is a modest number of commercial agreements between original members and future associate countries, notably Canada. The commercial relations and the private actors would benefit from clearer interpretation rules on the relationship between the new and existing agreements which require a due diligence exercise rather than a vacuum provision on the homologation of agreements.
Finally, It is also worth to express some level of concern about the delays that negotiations with four potential associate members (Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Singapore) could cause to the progress of the internal agenda of progressive liberalisation within the PA as such. This is particularly the case because the PA has a decentralised model of governance with limited human resources exclusively devoted to it.
Please feel free to share your views and proposals on issues and areas that need to be considered in the association agreements that the PA will negotiate.