The Trans-Pacific Partnership is the largest trade agreement in history. But what's really inside it? The devil, and perhaps angels, will be in the details.
Much ink, real and virtual, has been spilled over the Trans-Pacific Partnership after ministers of 12 nations, including the United States, concluded the trade agreement over the weekend.
But almost all of it is general or speculative. The deal was negotiated in secret. Except for a famous leak, most of what we know about TPP is general or speculative. A few enterprising reporters appear to have gotten some real meat — such as news that Big Pharma’s attempt to prolong patents and high prices was curtailed.
Still, the entire document, some 700 highly complex pages, has yet to be released to the public or members of Congress. Because President Obama received so-called fast track authority, the latter will get only an up-or-down vote, no amendments or filibusters.
Here are some questions worth asking:
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1. What does it mean to Washington state? TPP members already accounted for nearly $41 billion of the state’s $90.5 billion in goods exports last year. Is there room to grow, say in access to Japan’s agriculture markets? Or will the bulk of the benefits accrue to intellectual property players such as Microsoft?
2. Who are the biggest corporate winners and in what ways? How many American employees do they have vs. overseas workers (and revisit those figures in five years)? What industries won and lost? This is not a free-trade pact but managed trade — managing relations between industries and interests in each country.
3. Some 700 American “stakeholders” had access to the TPP during negotiations? Who were they? Let’s have a list. The AFL-CIO was not among them. Let the sun shine in.
4. The TPP is sold as a “high-standard, 21st century trade agreement.” As an old editor of mine would ask, What does that mean? How will these high standards be applied to environmental and labor protections, especially in the authoritarian member countries? Does it encourage competition and help customers, or does it lock in and extend the privileges and “rent seeking” of powerful players?
5. Does the agreement contain any buffers to stop the offshoring of labor to cheaper countries, the famous “giant sucking sound” that H. Ross Perot predicted would result from NAFTA?
6. What are the specific trade barriers to American products that have been lowered, on what timetable and what’s the fine print?
7. What did we give up in return? Conspiracy theorists are worried that U.S. laws can be circumvented by transnational companies going through TPP tribunals, investor-state dispute settlement mechanisms. True or not, citizens need to know what our trading partners received as far as market access, special treatment, legal remedies, etc.
8. In a slow-growth world, how much extra trade can TPP reasonably generate? How will it do so? Let’s see the peer-reviewed research. The U.S. trade deficit keeps growing despite trade agreements, and that means lost jobs here.
9. Every entity from the Pentagon to major corporations (including the big oil companies) is preparing plans and contingencies for climate change. What about TPP? Will the 10,000-mile supply chain be made greener? Special incentives for clean energy? Dirty incentives for coal? A real high-standard, 21st century trade agreement would have this front-and-center.
10. How much of this is economic and how much geopolitic? Are we needlessly antagonizing China or really hoping China joins TPP someday? To be sure, China has its own initiatives with the new Silk Road. But much of TPP is about reassuring real and de facto allies as part of the Obama pivot.
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