The largest regional trade agreement in history was reached on Monday between the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim nations. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) focuses on global commerce and worker standards that will connect 40% of the world’s economy.
In addition to the United States, participating countries include Japan, Canada, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Peru, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei.
The agreement has been in the works for eight years and, if passed by Congress, could be a “legacy maker” of the Obama administration. Obama contends that the partnership would build a common blockade against China’s economic practices and influence. It further would allow the United States and its partners - not Beijing - to set the standards for trade and commerce in the Pacific region.
The TPP covers numerous topics, but one highlight includes the phasing out of thousands of import tariffs faced by many countries participating in international trade. The agreement also focuses on establishing rules and regulations on the intellectual property of corporations, opening the availability of the Internet everywhere, including communist Vietnam, and levying more penalties on wildlife trafficking and abuses to the environment.
Additional items covered include providing protections for pharmaceutical companies, open markets for sugar and dairy products and a gradual phaseout of the tariffs on Japan’s automotive vehicles sold in North America.
The TPP will likely face stiff opposition in Congress in the months ahead. Labor unions, liberal activists and environmentalists all argue that the TPP favors large corporations over workers’ rights and environmental protection. Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders alike have condemned the TPP, calling the agreement a bad deal. Even Hillary Clinton’s support for the TPP is likely to waiver as she seeks to gain the votes of labor unions across the United States.
The White House contends that the United States has more to gain from open, freer trade with Pacific nations while opponents argue that the TPP will cause American jobs to be lost or be sent overseas.
Human rights groups and unions also express skepticism that Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam will actually improve labor conditions.
Republicans also will likely take issue with provisions of the agreement that provide a shorter period of time for brand-name pharmaceutical companies to keep their data secret with respect to advanced medicines made from living organisms. The generic drug industry and nonprofit health organizations want even shorter periods of time, however. They argue that a shorter period of time to keep the data secret is necessary to advance medicines that are affordable to the world’s population.
While the TPP attempts to address a number of global commerce and trade issues, there is a long road ahead before it becomes a reality.