The Trans-Pacific Partnership, also known as the TPP, was just released to the public after negotiations in November 2015. The White House backs the deal claiming that it will serve human rights, environmental, labor, and American economic interests well. Opponents, however, accuse the proposal of expanding corporate powers at the expense of those interests.
The TPP evokes high suspicions due to the secrecy and exclusiveness of its negotiations. U.S. elected officials did little of the negotiation work on this deal. Instead, the United States Trade Representative negotiated heavily with American corporate and foreign government input. Even United States senators were forbidden from taking notes from the TPP when invited to review earlier drafts of the document.
However, the secret didn’t take long to get out. The United States Trade Representative even published the entire document (numbering over 2,000 pages) online. The document’s 30 chapters and appendices are filled with droning legalistic language and seemingly endless small print tariff charts.
Despite the boring nature of the trade deal, the TPP has managed to motivate passion on all sides of the debate. If ratified by Congress, the TPP will create new trade policy on an unprecedented and multilateral scale. The agreement would include trade provisions applicable to trade with eleven other countries.
Despite the boring nature of the trade deal, the TPP has managed to motivate passion on all sides of the debate.
Obama’s trade deal comes with bold promises for environmentalists, labor activists, and key American businesses including Silicon Valley, pharmaceutical companies, and various potential American exporters. However, international trade law experts are skeptical on whether provisions that aid idealistic interests and the American economy will actually be enforced.
Simon Lester, the international trade law expert for the CATO Institute admits that TPP outcomes are unpredictable at this early stage. He pointed out in an interview for this piece that many TPP clauses would be completely unenforceable in court disputes due to semantics. He stated that any clauses stating that the entailed provisions “should” happen will not be enforceable, while any clauses stating that the entailed provisions “shall” happen could potentially be enforceable in a court dispute.
This distinction is important because governments could pick and choose which clauses to enforce based on how much legal weight is behind the clause — i.e. how enforceable it is in court. Dr. Lester also stated that intellectual property, environmental, and labor protections in the TPP appear to be among the agreement’s most difficult to enforce provisions.
Some activists complain about clauses allowing corporations to sue governments on behalf of their financial interests. Liberal consumer interest group Public Citizen labelled these clauses as threats to national sovereignty of TPP member nations in order to favor international companies.
The “Investor State Dispute Settlement System” (ISDS) is already in place from other trade agreements. But the TPP further expands these powers for multinational corporations. Activists worry that environmental laws from national governments could disappear or become impotent due to the ISDS chapter provisions in the deal.
Overall, the TPP is aggressively friendly to multinational conglomerate interests. The deal also contains provisions directed to appease critics of other historic American trade deals who are concerned about American economic interests and progressive ideals. Key industries in corporate America such as agriculture, technology, pharmaceuticals, and entertainment could prosper more under the deal.
The rosy outlook on the Trans-Pacific Partnership from the United States Department of Commerce and the White House seems unwarranted for different reasons. It is impossible to predict with certainty whether the deal is good or bad because the TPP is groundbreaking and unprecedented in different ways. Also, it is impossible to predict whether it is politically feasible to enforce nearly all TPP provisions apart from tariffs.