Australia's biggest business organisation has distanced itself from claims the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership will create hundreds of thousands of jobs and be a "gigantic foundation stone" for Australia's future.
The claims, made by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in Washington and in Canberra in an attempt to win support for the 12-nation deal, were dismissed by the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) in evidence to a Parliamentary inquiry on Monday.
ACCI argued the agreement did not mandate free trade and had not been assessed by an independent authority such as the Productivity Commission.
ACCI's director of trade Bryan Clark told the hearing the deal with Australia, the United States and 10 other nations was a "preferential" rather than a "free" trade agreement, and would add to rather than remove the complex web of rules that distorted international trade.
"There are now over 450 such agreements around the world," he said. "Each one taken in isolation may have benefits to the parties involved, but in aggregate they form the noodle bowl of complex trading terms that business has to navigate."
If it didn't mesh with the proposed separate Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership with ASEAN nations – China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand – there was a risk that the "noodle bowl" could "spill over into the services, intellectual property and e-commerce areas".
Agreements were inconsistent partly because they were negotiated behind closed doors.
"With the exception of some relatively superficial information on the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website, it is difficult to know the detail of what is being negotiated in our national interest," Mr Clark said.
"There is little academic study of the technical components of what is being negotiated, nor study of the outcomes of past negotiations to ensure the intended goals were achieved."
Despite strong representations from the chamber and the Productivity Commission, no arm's-length study had been conducted of the cost and benefits of the agreement from an Australian perspective.
The best the inquiry could do was hold hearings and undertake a popularity contest that would "ultimately divide along party lines", Mr Clark said.
The ACCI was forced to support the implementation legislation because all that it did was reduce tariffs, as the rest of the deal didn't require enabling legislation.
But the chamber wanted the inquiry to note that the deal would "further complicate compliance and costs for business" and had not been subjected to an independent Australian economic analysis.
It should also be concerned about the potential for "regulatory chill" from the clauses that would prevent further liberalisation of Australia's intellectual property and labour laws after it had been ratified.
Although both US presidential candidates opposed the deal, President Barack Obama was considering putting it to Congress in the so-called lame duck period between the presidential election in November and the swearing-in of the new president in February.
He might seek to take advantage of provisions that gave the United States the ability to change aspects of the deal after it had been signed, as it did with the Australia-US free trade agreement in 2005.In The Age and Sydney Morning Herald