The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a regional trade agreement that has been under negotiation during the last 5 years among the U.S. and 11 other Pacific rim countries (Japan, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam). Once ratified, it would be the largest regional trade agreement in history. It covers countries that make up 40% of the global economy (Fergusson et al. iii). The overall goal of the TPP is to eliminate tariffs and non-tariff barriers to trade in goods, services, agricultural products and investments. Some tariffs on U.S. goods are 50% of prices. Strategically, TPP is the avenue through which the United States is playing a leading role in writing the trade rules for the global economy for a critical region. (Fergusson et al. 5)
Business and banking interests (Goldman Sachs, Boeing, Citigroup, Caterpillar, Halliburton to name just a few) feel the TPP will help companies compete in a global economy, opening up formerly closed markets and eliminating protectionist tariffs. All this can be done, proponents assert, while shrinking the trade deficit and creating jobs.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense, Alan Carter, have both endorsed the TPP as necessary to growing and exercising our economic strength and underscore our lasting commitment to the Asia-Pacific region. Furthermore, the TPP will promote a global order that reflects our interests and our values and would ensure that growth is sustainable.
The labor movement fiercely opposes TPP mostly because of the consequences of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Disappointment over NAFTA (the most recent trade agreement between the U.S., Canada and Mexico) fuels some Democrats’ opposition to TPP. Following NAFTA, U.S. companies moved manufacturing jobs to Mexico for cheaper labor and low overall costs to operate due to nonexistent worker protections. The U.S. lost 700,000 jobs (Salgado 16). Still, some TPP proponents counter that, in today’s global economy, it would have been only be a matter of time until U.S. companies relocated to a country with cheaper production costs. The TPP has been referred to as “NAFTA on steroids”.
Faith-based groups that oppose TPP see it as a widening of the gap between high income and low income people, and also TPP will make it harder to enforce American environmental regulations, particularly those policies needed to combat climate change. (Proponents argue just the opposite – that through TPP a mechanism can be created to ensure environmental regulations are adhered to!)
One of the most controversial provisions of TPP that are publicly known is the investor-state dispute settlement. This is a process by which multinational corporations can sue the governments of countries in which they invest for violating their property rights. The TPP would establish “courts” to which private corporations could appeal for compensation for lost profits due to government regulations including health, environmental and labor regulations. In the past, the U.S. has not fared well in these types of tribunals attempting to uphold environmental regulations (and most recently a meat labeling law) under the General Agreement on Tariff and Trade (GATT) and the World Trade Organization (WTO).
In a case of strange bedfellows, the leftist Democrats against TPP are joined by right wing Tea Party Republicans in opposing TPP. What these Republicans fear is the derogation of congressional power to modify and regulate provisions which will impact the U.S. They see TPP as a step towards trade deals that erode American sovereignty.
A target population is those for whom the policy is intended, the beneficiaries. In 1993, Ann Schneider and Helen Ingram (336) proposed a policy typology that linked power (stronger or weaker) and social constructions (deserving or undeserving) to create four different target groups: “The ‘advantaged’ were seen as deserving and stronger (such as veterans). The ‘dependents’ were seen as deserving and weaker (such as children). The ‘contenders’ were seen as undeserving and stronger (such as the rich). The ‘deviants’ were seen as undeserving and weaker (such as drug addicts).” They suggested that public support for policies will be greater for target groups with positive social constructions, rather than negative social constructions.
Proponents of TPP are targeting their message to small-to-very-large businesses that stand to gain from “free trade” and others associated with trade such as banks, investors, shipping enterprises and multinational corporations. These would be classified as “contenders”, rich and powerful but not seen as deserving of government benefits by many average citizens. Contenders have a relatively high amount of power, but are negatively constructed, and are expected to receive benefits but few burdens of a policy.
Opponents of TPP target their message to the typical low or middle income workers who may stand to lose their job with increased global competition. These can be classified as “dependents”, not powerful but deserving. These are represented by the labor unions that stand for working people.
By sheer number, the opponents of TPP have a larger constituency. However, one should never underestimate the lobbying power of Wall Street and Big Business. Perhaps the TPP should be described in terms of how the average American will benefit – perhaps not lose their job but able to enjoy the benefits of open global trade (increased availability of goods, lower prices). Universal policies that provide benefits for everyone are more likely to enjoy broad, sustained political support than narrowly targeted policies (Schneider and Ingram 338).
There are two underlying problems with the TPP. One is the secrecy that surrounds TPP and the second is the dysfunctional relationship between President Obama and Congress. Rank and file members of both political parties are impatient with establishment leaders and anxious to cause political chaos.
Despite the enormity of TPP, very little is known about the provisions and actual language of the Agreement. What little is known has been leaked. Advisory groups are sworn to non-disclosure. Representatives of Congress are in the dark as much as citizens are. A draft of the text is not available to the public. Why is the whole process in secrecy?
The questions concerning the TPP have been complicated by the fast-track legislation requested by President Obama that is supposedly needed to give the U.S. negotiators ability to forge a pact that will not be amended by Congress. Other participant nations want the U.S. to have fast-track legislation so they can be guaranteed what they agree to will be what U.S. law becomes. Fast-track authority, if granted, would make it difficult for members of Congress to change the provisions of the Agreement.
If TPP is good for the U.S., business and government should allow oversight and input from citizens and their elected representatives. Advisory groups should be allowed to bring ideas back to their constituencies and discuss them. Labor, faith groups and protectionists should be allowed to voice their opposition in true American style. Transparency can only help garner support for the TPP. The world is globalizing forward and the U.S. needs to be at the table writing the rules to represent American interests and values.