What’s Wrong, or Right, with the Trans-Pacific Partnership

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - FEBRUARY 04: The ministers from 12 countries after the signing if the TPP at Sky City on February 4, 2016 in Auckland, New Zealand. The signing ceremony marks the end of the TPP negotiation process to create one of the world's biggest free-trade zones. (Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

Ministers from 12 countries of the Asia-Pacific region gather after signing the TPP on February 4, 2016, in Auckland, New Zealand.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, is a massive trade deal that is on the verge of going into effect—or not. The TPP, as negotiated over several years by the Barack Obama administration, had enjoyed mostly bipartisan support and seemed headed for passage. It would bring together 12 countries of the Asia–Pacific Rim region into the largest economic bloc in the world, comprising hundreds of millions of consumers and workers. But the deal is in jeopardy, primarily because both major-party candidates for president in 2016 are on record as opposing it. Opposition to “free trade” has been a distinctive feature of the presidential campaign.

The TPP would join the United States with Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam in what critics have called “NAFTA on steroids.” The Obama administration claims the trade deal “strengthens our strategic relationships with our partners and allies in a region that will be vital to the 21st century.” Supporters of the TPP say the deal would eliminate more than 18,000 tariffs, or import taxes, that various countries put on products made in the USA. This is predicted to lead to an increase in American exports and thereby a boost in levels of employment and earnings for U.S. workers. The deal includes stricter rules for workers’ rights, environmental protections, and other favored progressive goals—the enforcement of which will “level the playing field” by bringing the other economies up to U.S. standards.

But opponents of the TPP forecast likely negative outcomes: more outsourcing of U.S. jobs to other countries and lower wages for American workers. And they criticize the deal for having been reached “behind closed doors,” claiming the advantages will go to corporate interests, to the detriment of the public interest.

China, the largest Asia-Pacific economy (behind the United States) is noticeably absent from the partnership, which may be precisely the point. Supporters of the TPP see it as a way of countering Chinese influence, or of indirectly moving China toward ways of doing business that are more acceptable to the United States. Some political observers believe President Obama will try to get the TPP passed during the “lame-duck” session of Congress that follows the November elections.

Image credit: © Fiona Goodall/Getty Images

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