Document: Report to Congress on Strategic Implications of the Trans-Pacific Partnership
On October 5, 2015, Ministers of the 12 Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) countries announced conclusion of their free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations. The agreement is one of the Obama Administration’s signature trade policy initiatives, an effort to reduce and eliminate trade and investment barriers and establish new rules and disciplines to govern trade and investment among the 12 countries. TPP proponents, including Administration officials, argue that the proposed TPP would have substantial strategic benefits for the United States in addition to its direct economic impact. They argue that the agreement would enhance overall U.S. influence in the economically dynamic Asia –
Pacific region and advance U.S. leadership in setting and modernizing the rules of commerce in the region and potentially in the multilateral trading system under the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Congress plays a key role in the TPP. Through U.S. trade negotiating objectives established in Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) legislation and informal consultations and oversight, Congress has guided the Administration’s negotiations. Ultimately, Congress would need to pass implementing legislation if the concluded agreement is to take effect in the United States. The geo- political arguments surrounding TPP are widely debated, as are the arguments about its potential economic impact. To some, the TPP is an important litmus test of U.S. credibility in the Asia-Pacific region. As the leading economic component of the Administration’s “strategic rebalancing” to the region, the TPP, proponents argue, would allow the United States to reaffirm existing alliances, expand U.S. soft power, spur countries to adopt a more U.S. friendly foreign policy outlook, and enhance broader diplomatic and security relations. Many Asian policymakers – correctly or not – could interpret a failure of TPP in the United States as a symbol of the United States’ declining interest in the region and inability to assert leadership. Some critics argue that TPP backers often do not identify specific, concrete ways that a successful deal would invigorate U.S. security partnerships in the region, and that an agreement should be considered solely for its economic impact. They maintain that past trade pacts have had a limited impact on broad foreign policy dynamics and that U.S. bilateral relations are based on each country’s broader national interests.
The Administration is also pursuing strategic economic goals in the TPP. Through the agreement, proponents argue, the United States can play a leading role in “writing the rules” for commerce with key trading partners, addressing gaps in current multilateral trade rules, and setting a precedent for future regional and bilateral FTA negotiations or multilateral trade talks at the World Trade Organization (WTO). The core of this argument is the assertion that the TPP’s potential components – including tariff and non tariff liberalization, strong intellectual property rights and investment protections, and labor and environmental provisions – would build upon the U.S. led economic system that has expanded world trade and investment enormously since the end of World War II.
Although most U.S. observers agree it is in the U.S. interest to lead in establishing global and regional trade rules, less consensus exists on what those rules should be, yielding some criticism on the strength and breadth of various TPP provisions. In addition, some argue that crafting new rules through “mega regional” agreements rather than the WTO could undermine the multilateral trading system, create competing trading blocs, lead to trade diversion, and marginalize the countries not participating in regional initiatives.