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Trans-Pacific Partnership

Background

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a sweeping trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim countries—notably excluding China. The finalized proposal was signed on February 4, 2016, in Auckland, New Zealand, concluding seven years of negotiations. It is currently awaiting ratification to enter into force. The 30 chapters of the agreement aim to “promote economic growth; support the creation and retention of jobs; enhance innovation, productivity and competitiveness; raise living standards; reduce poverty in the signatories’ countries; and promote transparency, good governance, and enhanced labor and environmental protections.” The TPP contains measures to lower both non-tariff and tariff barriers to trade, and establish an investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism.

On November 11, 2016, it was reported that, due to Donald Trump’s election to the presidency, the White House would not pursue passing the agreement. On November 20, 2016, Singapore declared that it would amend legislation to bring the TPP into effect. The following day, Donald Trump announced in a video message that the U.S. would quit the TPP on his first day in office.

Dartmouth economics Professor Emily J. Blanchard argues that, while the TPP has been roundly criticized on the political left, progressives should actually be supportive of the TPP: “The TPP’s promise of a new progressive rule book—one that includes enforceable agreements against child labor and workplace discrimination, measures to punish illegal logging and trade in protected species, and protections against consumer fraud—would mark a substantial step forward in the progressive policy agenda on the global stage.”

However, in February, 2016, United Nations human rights expert Alfred de Zayas argued that the TPP is fundamentally flawed and is based on an outdated model of trade pacts, and that governments should not sign or ratify the TPP. According to de Zayas, the international human rights regime imposes, on countries, binding legal obligations, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and trade must be done under the human rights regime. Under the ISDS in the TPP, investors can sue a government, while a government cannot sue investors. De Zayas argued that this asymmetry made the system unfair. He added that international law, including accountability and transparency, must prevail over trade pacts.

Other criticisms stemmed from the secrecy of the negotiations, the length and complexity of the document and the likelihood that the benefits of such an agreement—deeply rooted in neoliberalism—would only be felt by wealthy business oligarchs, while the working poor in many of these countries would suffer as a result.

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