Trans-Pacific Partnership Offers Hope for Sustainable Development
By Maria Alvarez There has been much talk about the newly drafted, 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as the parties have come to agreement on the final terms of the agreement in Atlanta. While the details of the agreement have yet to be released to the public, a WikiLeaks document on some of the chapters in the agreement, along with much speculation, have contributed to the buzz around what the multilateral trade deal means and its effects on the global economy and economies of parties such as Japan, Chile, Mexico, Vietnam, Australia, and the United States. As it stands today, the TPP has a great deal of potential to create sustainable economic development in developing Pacific nations, but will face a good amount of opposition before ratification.
The agreement addresses a variety of economic and trade issues in the context of the 12 nations that have already signed on. The deal would lower protectionist trade barriers, such as tariffs and agricultural protections, for all of its members. In the US alone, it would lower tariffs for over 18,000 exporters to zero, and will do so for firms of other members. The deal would also significantly lower barriers to trade in the service sectors, which usually get tied up in regulation, visas, and customs and border protections. Eliminating some of this red tape will make it easier for service providers to enter new markets within the deal’s members.
These trade-related measures could lead to significant economic growth, though the real hope for sustainability in the future lies in the TPP protections for labor and the environment. All parties will have to adhere to the International Labor Organization’s basic principles on workers’ rights by setting a minimum wage, regulating working hours, and allowing independent unions. The deal attempts to address deforestation and fishing, and limits how much states can support and favor state-owned enterprises. Such protections for the environment along with guarantees of free competition are important to creating viable sustainable development, especially among the deal’s less-developed members, such as Malaysia and Vietnam.
Though promising for the world’s economic future, the TPP faces a potential struggle for ratification, especially in the US. President Obama received fast-track negotiation authority from Republican supporters in Congress, in the face of broad Democratic opposition. As a result, President Obama had authority to negotiate a final agreement that Congress can now approve or disapprove but cannot amend or filibuster. Coming up at the end of his second term, the TPP will vie for attention with the ongoing presidential primaries, and later, the 2016 presidential race.
Some presidential candidates have even addressed the deal in debates: Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has said, “I am not in favor of what I have learned about it”. This is a reversal of her opinion on the subject, as she had come out in favor of the agreement in 2012 when it was in its beginning stages. Other presidential candidates on both the left and the right have criticized the deal, with Senator Sanders, Governor O’Malley, and Donald Trump all coming out in opposition to it. Concerns about losing American jobs, labor protections, and exposing American products to foreign competition have surfaced in the debate surrounding the agreement. Alternately, 2016 Republican presidential candidates Gov. Jeb Bush and Sens. Rand Paul (KY) and Ted Cruz (FL) have stated they do support the agreement. There is also relatively popular support for the TPP in the US: a Pew Research Center Poll shows that about 50% of Americans, and about 66% of Americans under 30 are in favor of the deal.
The TPP faces some challenges, but also has hope for many of the member countries. The successful conclusion of the TPP would integrate America’s economy with some of the fastest growing markets in the world, and lower barriers to encourage higher levels of trade with developing members. Expanding trade with developing Pacific partners is a huge step in the right direction both for sustainable development and for US foreign policy. The provisions included in the TPP to protect both the environment and labor suggest this is a new kind of international trade agreement. Protecting those most vulnerable from trade deals, such as wage workers and natural resources, represent a real commitment to sustainability as a parallel goal to economic growth. The agreement also represents a far-reaching effort to engage America’s strengths to reject isolationism and collaborate with its Pacific neighbors, even opening a door for extensive collaboration with China ( a possible party to the TPP) in the future. The potential for sustainable international engagement should be a major motivation for Congress to vote to pass the TPP.