The Trans-Pacific Partnership, a potentially transformational trade deal between the U.S. and 11 other countries spanning three continents, was signed Monday after eight years of negotiations. Congress has 90 days to consider the pact. We hope lawmakers — as well as the presidential candidates who will no doubt weigh in on the deal — will take a thoughtful approach to their analysis.
Some seem to have their minds made up already, even though details of the deal are still trickling out. In fact, populists on the right and left have rushed to denounce the agreement. GOP front-runner Donald Trump called it a “bad deal,” while also irresponsibly suggesting renegotiating or ending the North American Free Trade Agreement. Meanwhile, Democrat Bernie Sanders is expected to aggressively campaign against the TPP. Undoubtedly other presidential hopefuls will rush to reflexively reject an agreement they haven’t even yet fully read.
The Obama administration does have the details, and it’s trumpeting the elimination of over 18,000 taxes on U.S. exports, including manufactured products, which have had tariffs as high as 59 percent in some TPP countries. Agricultural product tariffs, which can be as high as 40 percent, would be lowered, too, as would those on automotive and information and communication technology products.
In addition, the White House argues, the TPP has the strongest labor and environmental protections of any trade agreement in history. And the agreement includes a specific chapter focused on helping small- and medium-sized business benefit from trade, as well as rules to boost Web-based commerce. There would also be fewer restrictions on services, which may disproportionally help the U.S. economy. And transparency standards are the most stringent ever, the White House said.
All of that may be true. But a closer examination of the details may challenge or even refute the administration’s claims. Critics should await the deal’s release, let the facts shape the debate and then constructively contribute to the review process.
Most important, those privileged with a vote should put the TPP into a broad context. Yes, the aforementioned measures are essential. But so, too, is the deal’s diplomatic impact. The TPP is a rare, concrete accomplishment of the administration’s Asian “pivot.” Some of China’s neighboring nations, nervous over the emerging superpower’s potential threat, are party to the TPP. China is not. Rejecting the pact might mean that the rules of Pacific trade would become Beijing-centric, and it’s highly unlikely that China would as vigorously protect workers, the environment, intellectual property or other TPP priorities.
Rejection also would send a chill across the Atlantic while the U.S. and European Union are negotiating a free-trade agreement.
Domestic dynamics, including electoral issues, will inevitably influence the TPP debate. Now is the time, however, to prioritize national and international considerations above partisan politics.