The plight of Australia’s dairy farmers is on the political agenda this week, after One Nation leader Pauline Hanson narrowly failed in her Senate bid for a minimum milk price. But getting fair payment for their goods is far from the only challenge dairy farmers face.
Pressure has been mounting on the industry for the past decade. Existing milk alternatives are growing their market share, helped by a rise in veganism and public concern around animal welfare. The agriculture sector is under pressure to reduce its contribution to climate change, and technology advances mean milk may one day be produced without cows at all.
All this has been compounded by devastating and prolonged drought. So here’s the full story of the hurdles farmers face, now and in the future, to get milk into your fridge.
The rate at which processors pay farmers for milk is known as the farm gate price. The prices are not regulated and are set by market forces.
In 2016 the milk price crashed when Australia’s two largest dairy processors, Murray Goulburn and Fonterra, lowered the price they would pay from about 48 cents a litre to as low as 40 cents.
Since then, the farm gate milk price has increased and in 2019–20 is expected to be 51 cents per litre, due to a weaker Australian dollar and demand from export markets. But forecast global prices for butter, cheese and whole milk powder this financial year remain below that of previous years.
Methane and other livestock emissions comprise about 10% of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.
As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change made clear in its land use report in August, changes must be made across the food production chain if the world is to keep global warming below the critical 1.5℃ threshold. For beef and dairy livestock, this means changes such as land and manure management, higher-quality feed and genetic improvements. Meeting this challenge cost-effectively, while improving productivity, is no small task.
Technology may help in curbing greenhouse gas emissions from cows, but it also threatens to replace the dairy industry altogether. Advances in biotech may enable liquid analogous to milk to be produced through bioculture systems, without a cow in sight.
Elsewhere, the rise of plant-based alternatives derived from soybeans, almonds, oats and other sources threatens traditional milk products. This can partly be attributed to increasing numbers of people adopting a vegan diet.
For a mammal to produce milk, it must usually become pregnant and produce offspring. Female calves generally go into a farm’s pool of replacement animals, while male dairy calves are sold.
Pure-breed male dairy calves do not naturally lay down a lot of muscle and so do not generally make good beef livestock. Many are sent to the abattoir for slaughter, typically between 5 and 30 days of age. This practice has prompted welfare concerns and means the industry must carefully manage the handling and transport of vulnerable young calves.
Potential solutions include artificial insemination of cows using only semen that will produce female calves. The use of this technology is limited because it reduces conception rates.
There is also growing public concern about the separation of cows and calves not sent to the abbatoir. The calves are typically taken within the first 12-24 hours and reared together in a shed, where they are fed milk or milk replacer. This is thought to maximise the amount of saleable milk and minimise disease transfer from cow to calf, particularly Johne’s Disease. However, recent research has found little evidence to support these practices.
Research has shown that calf-cow separation in the first day of life causes lower distress than abrupt separation at a few weeks of age or older, when the bond is stronger. This is not to say that early separation is not a concern. Rather, in the face of consumer demands for certain ethical standards, simple fixes may be hard to implement.
Challenges to the dairy industry will take time and effort to address. Some, such as drought, are out of farmers’ control. Dry conditions and high cost of water, fodder and electricity have forced farmers to cull less productive dairy cows, leading to a decline in production.
The pressures, and associated debt, create intense stress for farmers, increase family tensions, and have negative flow-on effects throughout rural communities.
Putting aside the political push for a regulated milk price, the key message for dairy consumers is clear. If we want our milk produced in a certain way, we must pay a fair market-based price to cover the costs to farmers of fulfilling our wants.
Australia’s federal agriculture minister, David Littleproud, has called for a boycott of supermarket-branded milk. He is angry about lack of support for a “milk levy” of 10 cents a litre wanted by the dairy industry to support drought-stricken farmers.
Fellow National Party colleagues have called for nothing less than a royal commission into the supermarkets’ support for farmers. Nationals leader, and deputy prime minister, Michael McCormack, has said he is open to the idea.
Amid intense price competition across many supermarket categories, the price of milk stirs passions like nothing else.
But calls to boycott supermarket-branded milk are misguided; and a royal commission would not be money well-spent.
The widely held belief that supermarkets are hurting dairy farmers by driving down the price of milk is incorrect.
It overlooks basic supply chain dynamics and the findings of the 18-month-long inquiry by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, which was ordered by then federal treasurer Scott Morrison to investigate the low milk prices paid to dairy farmers.
Looking at the supply chain for fresh milk helps show why the retail price of supermarket-branded milk does not determine the price paid to farmers as some claim.
There are many players within a food supply chain: producers, processors, wholesalers, retailers and consumers.
Dairy farmers typically sell their milk to processors, who then sell to supermarkets. There is a relationship between the supermarket and processor, not supermarket and farmer. Whether the supermarket sells a litre of milk at $2, $3 or $4 has no direct relationship on the price the processor pays to the farmer.
In the words of the final report of the competition watchdog’s Dairy Inquiry, “the farm-gate price paid to farmers for milk used to fulfil private label milk contracts is not directly correlated with private-label milk retail prices”.
The ACCC’s report does identify a range of market failures due to bargaining power imbalances and information asymmetry, but these are crucially between dairy farmers and processors.
Dairy farmers’ weak bargaining power means any higher price paid by supermarkets to processors would not necessarily result in higher farm-gate prices. The ACCC report notes that farmers get no more money for the milk that is sold at higher retail prices (such as branded milk).
Processors, not supermarkets, set farm-gate prices in response to market conditions (global and domestic demand), at the minimum level required to secure necessary volumes. Farmers are not paid according to the type or value of the end product their milk is used in. They are paid the same price for their raw milk regardless of what brand goes on the container.
Supermarkets are under pressure to keep food prices low, particularly on staples such as bread, milk and eggs. This is evident from the fact that campaigns to get shoppers to exercise their power as ethical consumers quickly run out of steam.
In April 2016, for example, national attention on the plight of dairy farmers led to a campaign encouraging shoppers to leave “supermarket branded milk” on the shelves. In a single month the supermarket brands’ share of milk sales dropped from 66% to 51%. Then it began to rise again. Within a year it was back to nearly 60%.
While a milk levy to directly help farmers during the drought has many supporters, the disconnect within the supply chain means it is near impossible for retailers to pass the money directly to the intended beneficiaries. That, again, depends on those who buys the milk from the farmers – the processors.
Despite this, and because the ACCC inquiry’s findings have so far done little to dispel myths about the price of milk, retailers such as Woolworths have seen it as prudent to embrace the levy idea and publicly demonstrate support for dairy farmers.
All the additional proceeds from its “Drought Relief” milk go back to processor Parmalat, who is responsible for distributing the money to suppliers in drought-affected areas. Coles, meanwhile, has slapped a 30 cent levy on its three-litre milk containers, with the funds going to the Coles Drought Relief Fund.
These measures arguably add to continuing confusion about how the milk market works and the relationship between farm-gate and retail prices.
In the court of public opinion the supermarkets probably had no option but to go along with the charade.
A minister for agriculture, however, should know better.
With drought ravaging Australia’s eastern states, much attention has been given to the need to provide short-term solutions through drought relief. But long-term resilience is a vital issue, particularly as climate change adds further pressure to farmers and farmland.
Our research has found that helping farmers improve the rivers, dams, native vegetation and trees on their land increases productivity, the resilience of the land to drought, and through this the health and well-being of farmers.
Now is the time to invest more heavily than ever in vital networks in regional Australia, such as Landcare and natural resource management groups like Local Land Services and Catchment Management Authorities.
Some researchers suggest that up to 370 million hectares of land in Australia and the Pacific is degraded. This diminished productivity across such a large area has significant implications for the long-term sustainability of agricultural production.
Australia also has one of the worst records for wildlife diversity loss, including extensive loss of biodiversity across much of our agricultural land. The problems of degradation and biodiversity loss are often magnified under the pressure of drought.
The good news is that there are ways to strengthen the resilience of the farmland. One key approach is to invest in improving the condition of key natural assets on farms, like shelter belts, patches of remnant vegetation, farm dams, and watercourses.
Many studies have shown improving the natural assets on an farm can boost production, as well as avoid the costs of erosion and flood control. For example, restored riverbank vegetation can improve dry matter production in nearby paddocks, leading to greater milk production in diary herds and up to a 5% boost in farm income.
Similarly, shelter belts (tree lanes planted alongside paddocks) can lower wind speeds and wind chill, and boost pasture production for livestock by up to 8%, at the same time as providing habitat for biodiversity.
Our own long-term work with farmers who invested in their natural assets prior to, or during, the Millennium Drought in New South Wales suggests these farmers are currently faring better in the current drought.
Well-supported and resourced organisations like Landcare groups are pivotal to supporting effective land management, which improves degraded land and helps farmland (and farmer) through tough times.
However, Landcare and other natural resource management agencies have been subject to major budget cuts over the past decade.
They are also a key part of the social fabric of rural communities, bringing together landowners to exchange ideas and support each other. Indeed, the Australian Landcare model is so well regarded globally it has been adopted in 22 other countries.
This drought is a critical decision point. The need to invest in maintaining and improving our vegetation, water and soil has never been more apparent than it is now. We have a chance to determine the long-term future of much of Australia’s agricultural land.
Two years ago we were celebrating just about the best year for farmers ever. Now many farmers – particularly in New South Wales and southern Queensland – are in the grip of drought.
It underlines just how variable the Australian climate can be.
While attention is focused on responding to the current situation, it is important to also think long-term. In our rush to help, we need to make sure well-meaning responses don’t do more harm than good.
The recent drought has stimulated much empathy for farmers from the media, governments and the public. Federal and state governments have committed hundreds of millions of dollars in farmer support. Private citizens and companies have also given generously to the cause.
While there appears to be overwhelming public support for helping farmers through drought, concerns have been raised by economists as well as farmer representatives – including both the former and current head of the National Farmers’ Federation.
A central concern is that drought support could undermine farmer preparedness for future droughts and longer-term adaptation to climate change.
Another concern is that simplistic “farmer as a victim” narrative presented by parts of the media overstate the number of farmers suffering hardship and understates the truth that most prepare for and manage drought without assistance.
Sensationalist media coverage can also damage Australia’s reputation as a reliable food producer. Images of barren landscapes, stressed livestock and desperate farmers send the wrong signals to customers and trading partners.
The tension in drought policy is real.
To remain internationally competitive Australian farmers need to increase their productivity.
Agricultural productivity depends on two main factors. First, innovation – adopting new technologies and management practices. Second, structural adjustment – shifting resources towards the most productive sectors and most efficient farmers.
Supporting drought-affected farms has the potential to slow both these processes, weakening productivity growth.
This gives rise to an acute dilemma: should we support farmers in distress, or support the industry to be the best it can be?
While it is difficult to attribute any specific event to climate change, it is clear Australia’s climate is changing, with significant consequences for agriculture.
Australian average temperatures have increased by about 1℃ since 1950. Extreme heat events have become more frequent and intense. Recent decades show a trend towards lower average winter rainfall in the southwest and southeast.
Research by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences shows climate change has negatively affected the productivity of cropping farms, particularly in southern Australia.
This research also shows evidence of farmers adapting to maintain productivity and reduce their sensitivity to climate.
There is still much uncertainty over what climate change will mean for agriculture in the future.
Although businesses in other industries are expected to manage risk without assistance, agriculture has some special aspects that help build a case for a government policy response.
First, risk in agriculture is generally greater than in other industries. Farmers are vulnerable to variation in international commodity prices as well as droughts and other extreme events.
Second, most farm businesses are also farm households.
While many other risky industries are made up of large corporate businesses (generally with diversified assets and ownership), agriculture is dominated by family farms.
Third, financial markets both in Australia and internationally struggle to provide viable risk management products for farmers – particularly drought insurance.
This means farming is an unusually risky business. Farmers must therefore be more conservative about financing and operating their businesses, which constrains investment, innovation and ultimately productivity.
In 2008 a Productivity Commission review recommended a national farm income support scheme.
This led to the Farm Household Allowance program.
It provides a fortnightly payment, usually set at the rate of the Newstart unemployment allowance. There is also a financial assessment of the farm business and funding to help develop skills or get professional advice.
Those welfare programs provide an important safety net for farm households. Because they provide targeted support to households, rather than businesses, they result in fewer economic distortions than alternative approaches.
Past reviews have consistently recommended against subsidising farm business inputs or supporting output prices. This includes providing subsidies for livestock feed.
While these measures might provide short term relief, if they become routine they risk weakening the incentives to manage farms properly, by for instance destocking sheep and cattle ahead of likely droughts.
Drought is inevitable, Mr Joyce
Looking to the future, it is possible insurance could have an important role to play.
While drought insurance has failed to thrive in Australia to date, advances in data could allow more viable forms of insurance to emerge.
In particular, index-based insurance products where payouts are based on weather data rather than an assessment of farm damages.
Such insurance, if done well, could provide farmers with better protection from climate risk, while also supporting adaptation and productivity growth – effectively sidestepping our current drought policy dilemma.
Neal Hughes, Senior Economist, Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) and Steve Hatfield-Dodds, Executive Director, Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES)
With the New South Wales government announcing that drought is now affecting the entire state, the federal government’s crisis assistance payments have been described by some as too little, too late. The National Farmers Federation has renewed its calls for a national drought policy and drought experts have expressed concern about reliance on emergency handouts.
To best support the well-being of farmers and farming communities, we need to support them not just when they are in the middle of a drought, but also when the rain comes and the dust has settled. An emergency response is important, but on its own is not enough – our farming communities deserve more. It needs to be accompanied by long-term coordinated support, delivered through the whole drought cycle, that helps farmers prepare for drought, cope with drought when it is happening, and recover rapidly afterwards.
Prolonged droughts harm the health and well-being of people in farming communities, although research also shows that not everyone is affected to the same extent, and some not at all. This means we need to learn from past experience in choosing what actions represent the best and most effective investments.
Providing farmers with emergency assistance when drought is at its worst helps to alleviate the most acute hardship. But multiple inquiries and research studies (see here, here and here) have concluded that this approach is not enough.
To truly support the well-being of farming communities facing the threat of drought, we need to invest more in actions that support their preparedness and resilience before drought hits, rather than waiting until conditions are at their worst before offering help.
Doing this requires breaking the “hydro-illogical cycle”, in which a severe drought triggers short-term concern and assistance, followed by a return to apathy and complacency once the rains return. When drought drops off the public and media radar, communities are often left with little or no support to invest in preparing for the next inevitable drought.
Farmers need proactive, long-term access to drought preparedness schemes well in advance, before the effects of drought begin to bite. Farmers who use programs such as the farm management deposits scheme, which allows them to put aside surplus income in good years and draw on it in difficult ones, have higher well-being during droughts than those who access emergency assistance provided during drought.
Our research has also identified some other ways to protect farmers’ well-being during challenging times. These include investing in forward planning for drought, supporting farmers to invest in “drought-proofing” measures suitable to their farm, and creating networks through which farmers can share their knowledge about what works to cope best with the financial, psychological and social challenges they face.
These things are not a “fix” for drought; a drought will always have significant impacts. But they can help reduce the severity of impacts, and the time taken to recover. However, to really be effective, these actions need to be invested in between droughts, in addition to investing in emergency support during drought.
We can learn a lot from the actions that farmers are already taking. Thousands of farmers have spent years investing in drought resilience, for example by changing pasture types and water management practices, and by changing how they plan for and manage periods of low rainfall.
This investment often goes unsupported and unrecognised, and has to be done among the ever-present pressures of challenging market conditions, low profit margins, rising costs, the need to repay debts incurred in the last drought or flood, and the myriad daily pressures of farming. We need to better reward farmers who make these investments, and to offer incentives for continued investment in this type of action between droughts.
One investment being made by many farmers across Australia is the adoption of regenerative farming, in which the entire farming system is re-oriented with a goal of better using natural ecosystem processes to support production, and of better matching production to land capacity through different climatic conditions.
Early research findings suggest that engaging in regenerative farming can improve drought resilience. But shifting to use of this approach to farming takes a lot of time and investment; before asking farmers to make fundamental changes to the way they farm, we need more research that critically examines when, where and how different farming systems can help safeguard against drought.
As well as helping farmers invest in actions to increase resilience to drought, we also need to consider the best ways to support those who are suffering severe psychological and financial stress. For many farmers, supporting them to cope with drought and stay in farming is the best decision. But for others, the best decision can be to leave farming altogether.
The decision to leave farming is understandably one of the most challenging times in a farmer’s life, and often happens when their well-being is low and they are experiencing psychological distress. This means that the quality of help they receive during this time can make a big difference in how well they cope. Services such as the Rural Financial Counselling Service have a vital role to play at all times (before, during and after drought) in giving advice to farmers weighing up the agonising decision to stay or leave.
If you want to help farmers, keep supporting relief funds – they provide essential help during the worst of drought. But also tell your local politician that you support investment in long-term programs that help farmers improve their resilience to the next drought, and the one after that, and that recognise and reward the investments farmers are already making in doing this.
If we truly have our farmers’ well-being at heart, we should be taking drought action in wet years as well as dry, and in good times as well as bad.
Jacki Schirmer, Associate Professor, University of Canberra; Dominic Peel, PhD Candidate in Public Health, University of Canberra; Ivan Charles Hanigan, Data Scientist (Epidemiology), University of Sydney, and Kimberly Brown, PhD Researcher, University of Canberra
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton’s recent statements that Australia should open its arms to white farmers in South Africa facing “persecution” at the hands of a black majority government sparked national bemusement, international outrage, and rejection from members of his own government.
Dutton’s sympathy for white South Africans, who would “abide by our laws, integrate into our society, work hard [and] not lead a life on welfare”, has long historical roots.
This sense of mutual racial purpose in “white men’s countries” like Australia, South Africa and North America is located in a shared fondness for racial exclusion and segregation.
Proposed South African legislation that would allow the ruling African National Congress to expropriate land from white farmers without compensation to meet a modest target of 30% of farmland in black hands seems to have sparked Dutton’s benevolence.
Australia’s far-right has been reporting on white farmers being murdered in racially motivated attacks for some time, reprising a “white genocide” meme popular in alt-right circles abroad. Mainstream media outlets in Australia then adopted this narrative.
Australia’s colonial immigration restriction regimes, which originated during the 1850s gold rushes in Victoria, heavily influenced similar polices introduced in Natal, South Africa, in 1896.
And when Australia federalised colonial immigration laws in 1902, the notorious dictation test, which quizzed potential immigrants in any European language, was in turn borrowed from Natal.
Australians and “Boers” (South Africans of Dutch descent, also known as Afrikaners) forged a sort of racial fraternity across the battlefield in the Boer War between 1899 and 1902. Australian light horsemen sent to fight in South Africa found themselves not all that dissimilar to their enemy.
As Australian soldier J.H.M. Abbott put it in a book on his exploits:
The [Australian] bushman – the dweller in the country as opposed to the town-abiding folk – … is, to all practical purposes, of the same kind as the Boer. [I]n training, in conditions of living, in environment, and to some extent in ancestry, the [Australian] and the Boer have very much that is in common.
Such sympathy – and a hatred for black South Africans, mirroring sentiments toward Indigenous Australians – extended well into the 20th century. Some of the 5,000 Australians living in Johannesburg in the 1900s, either war veterans or economic migrants, were instrumental in forming white-only trade unions modelled on those back home.
Australia and South African governments worked together in the 1940s to ensure their restrictive racial policies were beyond the reach of new international organisations.
Jan Smuts, South Africa’s prime minister between 1939 and 1948, was responsible for the inclusion of the term “basic human rights” in the preamble to the UN Charter.
Along with “Doc” Evatt, Australia’s attorney-general and the key author of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Smuts saw the idea of human rights not as “synonymous with political, social or racial equality” but as a protection of countries from the threat of further war and international encroachment.
The prominence of domestic jurisdiction became a central part of the UN Charter. This ensured human rights were not enforceable on – or even relevant to – individual countries.
South African apartheid, the White Australia Policy, and treatment of Indigenous Australians became hot-button issues from the late 1950s onward.
Decolonising African and Asian countries soon moved to have South Africa excluded from the Commonwealth of Nations. Australia’s prime minister, Robert Menzies, rejected such moves, standing alone in refusing to condemn apartheid. Instead, Menzies and his conservative successors advocated a stance of “non-interference”. They were fearful Australia would be the anti-colonial campaigns’ next target.
The 1970s and 1980s saw increasing protests against apartheid in Australia – particularly around the Springbok rugby tours in 1971. This period was also marked by efforts from conservatives to blunt the edge of an international sanctions campaign against South Africa.
Coalition prime minister Malcolm Fraser and his Labor successor Bob Hawke were strong opponents of apartheid. But the Coalition under John Howard in the 1980s joined with US President Ronald Reagan and UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to do:
… everything it could to see that nothing was done to bring [apartheid] to an end.
The first arrival of what Dutton would now term “refugees” from southern Africa to Australia began in the 1980s. White farmers fled the democratic election of a black majority government in Zimbabwe in 1980, followed in the 1990s by a rush of South Africans “packing for Perth” after Nelson Mandela’s 1994 election and the abolition of apartheid.
Studies find these migrants feel victimised by the process of decolonisation and bad (read, black) government. Australia, which is yet to reconcile itself with the legacy of colonialism or offer meaningful participation in government to Indigenous people, must then appear to be an ideal destination.
Dutton’s call for “civilised nations” to rescue beleaguered white farmers draws explicitly on this long history of equating civilisation with a global white identity. This mental universe has dangerous ramifications for Australia in a world where the “global colour line” has disappeared.
The revived trade agreement, now known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), has finally made it across the line. It’s a considerable win for Australian farmers and service providers, in a trading area worth about A$90 billion.
The 11 remaining countries from the initial Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement finally agreed to go ahead with the deal without the US, at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
The deal reduces the scope for controversial investor-state dispute settlements, where foreign investors can bypass national courts and sue governments for compensation for harming their investments. It introduces stronger safeguards to protect the governments’ right to regulate in the public interest and prevent unwarranted claims.
The new agreement is more of an umbrella framework for separate yet coordinated bilateral deals. In fact, Australia’s Trade Minister Steven Ciobo said:
The agreement will deliver 18 new free trade agreements between the CPTPP parties. For Australia that means new trade agreements with Canada and Mexico and greater market access to Japan, Chile, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei.
It means a speedier process for reducing import barriers on key Australian products, such as beef, lamb, seafood, cheese, wine and cotton wool.
It also promises less competition for Australian services exports, encouraging other governments to look to use Australian services and reducing the regulations of state-owned enterprises.
Australia now also has new bilateral trade deals with Canada and Mexico as part and parcel of the new agreement. This could be worth a lot to the Australian economy if it were to fill commercial gaps created by potential trade battles within North America and between the US and China.
The new CPTPP rose from the ashes of the old agreement because of the inclusion of a list of 20 suspended provisions on matters that were of interest for the US. These would be revived in the event of a US comeback.
These suspended provisions involved substantial changes in areas like investment, public procurement, intellectual property rights and transparency. With the freezing of further copyright restrictions and the provisions on investor-state dispute settlements, these suspensions appear to re-balance the agreement in favour of Australian governments and consumers.
In fact, the scope of investor-state dispute settlements are narrower in the CPTPP, because foreign private companies who enter into an investment contract with the Australian government will not be able to use it if there is a dispute about that contract. The broader safeguards in the agreement make sure that the Australian government cannot be sued for measures related to public education, health and other social services.
The one part of the agreement relating to the temporary entry for business people is rather limited in scope and does not have the potential to impact on low-skilled or struggling categories of Australian workers. In fact, it only commits Australia to providing temporary entry (from three months, up to two years) of only five generic categories of CPTPP workers. These include occupations like installers and servicers, intra-corporate transferees, independent executives, and contractual service suppliers.
The above categories squarely match the shortages in the Australian labour market, according to the Lists of Eligible Skilled Occupation of the Home Affairs Department.
Bits of the original agreement are still included in the CPTPP such as tariffs schedules that slash custom duties on 95% of trade in goods. But this was the easy part of the deal.
The new agreement will be formally signed in Chile on March 8 2018, and will enter into force as soon as at least six members ratify it. This will probably happen later in the year or in early 2019.
The geopolitical symbolism of this timing is poignant. The CPTPP is coming out just as Donald Trump raises the temperature in the China trade battle by introducing new tariffs. It also runs alongside China’s attempts to finalise a much bigger regional trade agreement, the 16-nation Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.
Even though substantially the CPTPP is only a TPP-lite at best, it still puts considerable pressure on the US to come out of Trump’s protectionist corner.
It spells out the geopolitical consequences of the US trade policy switch, namely that the Asia Pacific countries are willing to either form a more independent bloc or align more closely with Chinese interests.
Will this be enough to convince the Trump administration to reverse its course on global trade? At present, this seems highly unlikely. To bet on the second marriage of the US with transpacific multilateral trade would be a triumph of hope over experience.