There was a lot of talk about the Trans-Pacific Partnership during the Republican debate last night in Milwaukee, but many people don’t know much about it. That was evident even in some of the candidates, who made claims about countries that aren’t even a part of the deal.
So what is the TPP?
The Washington Post lays it out fairly well, explaining who’s involved and what they’re trying to get accomplished:
Basically, it’s a giant free trade deal between the U.S., Canada, and 10 countries in the Asia-Pacific region that’s been under negotiation for nearly a decade now (it began as an agreement between Singapore, Chile, New Zealand and Brunei before the U.S. took the lead in 2009). It’s expected to eliminate tariffs on goods and services, tear down a host of non-tariff barriers and harmonize all sorts of regulations when it’s finished…
The countries currently party to the agreement — currently including Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Canada, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam, most critically Japan and potentially Korea — are some of the U.S.’ biggest and fastest-growing commercial partners, accounting for $1.5 trillion worth of trade in goods in 2012 and $242 billion worth of services in 2011.
The treaty has 29 chapters, dealing with everything from financial services to telecommunications to sanitary standards for food.
Not everyone is a fan. According to the Electronic Freedom Foundation, it’s “a secretive, multinational trade agreement that threatens to extend restrictive intellectual property (IP) laws across the globe and rewrite international rules on its enforcement.”
Doesn’t that sound ominous?
The EFF is very concerned about the TPP, writing that it’s a threat and should be opposed:
Some of the more dangerous threats to the public’s rights to free expression, access to knowledge, and privacy online are contained in the copyright provisions in the Intellectual Property (IP) chapter, which we analyzed based on the final version leaked by Wikileaks two weeks ago and which are unchanged in the final release.
[I]f there’s one thing we can take away from this, it’s that the TPP’s secretive, lobbyist-controlled policymaking process has led to a deal that upholds corporate rights and interests at the direct expense of all of our digital rights.
Bryan Riley, the Jay Van Andel Senior Policy Analyst in Trade Policy for the Heritage Foundation, says while the TPP isn’t a treaty, the president can’t commit the country to it on his own.
“It takes an act of Congress,” he said. “The House of Representatives has to weigh in first, because one part of agreements like this is changing trade laws. Under the Constitution, any change to tax policy or tax rates has to originate in the House of Representatives. So the House will get a vote, then the Senate will get a vote.”
Riley explained that many of the opponents of TPP are groups that usually side with President Obama and because of that, the president will have to do something he’s not known for doing.
“From labor unions to environmental groups, [organizations] who have problems with free trade agreements in general,” he said. “And this is not just a trade agreements. It involves a lot of different areas as well. So, for this to pass and with Republicans in charge of both houses of Congress, it’s gonna take support from Republicans and President Obama historically hasn’t worked with them very well and ha alienated them. So some Republicans may say, ‘Look, if we want to do a deal, let’s do it right. We’ll redo it on our own.’ It would be very difficult for President Obama to take any unilateral action.”
Riley says Obama may have put some provisions in the agreement that Congress didn’t intend for him to put in there, which, despite giving the President Fast Track Authority, they could choose to change the Fast Track rules and amend the deal.
“Congress specifically reserved the ability to say ‘We can remove the Fast Track process if we think that you haven’t complied with our wishes in terms of how you negotiated the agreement,” Riley said. “Not only do they have to look to see if it’s a good agreement or not, but they have to look at ‘Did President Obama follow the directives we laid out for him?’ If he didn’t, then it doesn’t necessary go through under the Fact Track process.”
If that happens, it’s possible the negotiators would have to go back and renegotiate with all the countries involved. Riley doesn’t see that happening, but that doesn’t mean the deal’s passage is a given.
“There may be deal breakers in there, maybe in respect to Internet services,” he said. “Maybe elsewhere, and instead of removing those bad aspects, Congress would just have to vote down the whole agreement.”
“This deal is a lot more complicated than ‘Oh, we’re just gonna raise tariffs.'”
While Congress has typically passed trade agreements, this one is garnering criticism from both the left and the right, putting its passage in question.
One thing is certain though. With it coming in at over 5,500 pages, not one person in Congress knows precisely what it contains. Even Riley said the Heritage Foundation was still reviewing it, as it was just recently released in full.
Members of Congress only have a few weeks to learn everything about the package before casting their votes.
From what you know, where do you stand?