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Can the Trans-Pacific Partnership multilateralise the 'noodle bowl' of Asia-Pacific trade agreements?

By Jeffrey D. Wilson - Perth USAsia Centre

Executive Summary

  • The Trans-Pacific Partnership offers more than just a set of market access opportunities for Australia. It also promises ‘systemic change’ in the Asia-Pacific trade architecture.
  • The spread of bilateral FTAs in the last decade has caused fractures in the regional trade system, known as the ‘noodle bowl problem’.
  • The TPP may help resolve this problem by ‘multilateralising’ existing agreements under one umbrella. Its size, ambitious reform agenda and status as a ‘living agreement’ make it especially suited to this task.
  • Australia stands to gain considerably if the TPP’s high-standard and multilateral approach becomes a template for trade liberalisation in the region.
  • Businesses and policymakers should be aware of these systemic implications when evaluating participation in the TPP.


The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is one of the most significant developments on the trade and foreign policy agendas in the Asia-Pacific today. It is huge agreement, comprising twelve member states that collectively account for one-third of global economic activity. Its scope is extensive, combining a wide array of tariff reductions with commitments in 24 ‘new’ trade policy areas, such as services, intellectual property and e-commerce. In a region that has recently been dominated by proliferation of bilateral free trade agreements (FTAs), its multilateral approach to trade liberalisation is also a novel development. It has also been implicated in geopolitical rivalries in Asia, particularly the emerging rivalry between the US and China for regional leadership. …..

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