There recently have been negotiation for a free trade agreement among several Pacific rim nations known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). But before we discuss about the details and logistics of the TPP, let me briefly explain what a free trade agreement is. A free trade agreement (short for FTA) is, as what its name says, promotes “free trade,” typically through reduced or elimination of protective tariffs and special investment incentives for member nations to invest and trade within one another. Members who are not in the agreement would thus be at a disadvantage. Such agreements have been a way for nations of similar aims to collectively strengthen themselves as a group. Many of these agreements arise out of means such as desires to expand and trade with different nations or to strengthen its own region with its neighboring nations. Some of the largest agreements now include the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN), North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and much more. However recently, with China’s rise in economic and political prominence, Beijing has begun to exert its influence within agreements like APEC, ASEAN, and through their newly created Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). The US and several other nations, have in essence, began negotiating for this TPP agreement.
The agreement first started negotiations in 2005 as the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement (TPSEP or P4). It is a proposed regional regulatory and investment treaty among 12 nations: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam, and the US. The nations aimed the agreement to “enhance trade and investment among TPP partners and to promote innovation, economic growth, development, and the creation and retention of jobs. But that’s all talk until it’s set forth on writing and into action. The nations had planned to wrap up negotiations in 2012 when concerns with agriculture, intellectual property, services and investment agreements drew controversy and inhibited negotiations. Some of the contention that have been brought up have recently raged divisions within Congress, and even within the Democratic party themselves as well, as many of the leftist, progressives have raised questions and opposition to the TPP, one key goal on President Obama’s agenda.
Senators like Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) have been prominent with their oppositions, especially with the negotiation process known as fast-track that has been given to the president since Nixon and the Free Trade Act of 1974. In essence, “fast track” gives the President the power to bypass much of congressional oversight (congress may only approve or disapprove, but cannot amend or filibuster) to negotiate international agreements. This practice of fast track has especially been contentious with the concerns of the controversial clauses of the agreement, the expansive of the agreement, and the secrecy–lack of transparency–of the agreements. The oppositions led by Warren and Sanders, along with other progressive Democrats are concerned that fast-track will bypass many crucial oversight functions of Congress. In addition, there are also fears of infringements onto Internet privacy and use, such as violations of fair use, whistleblowers, and safeguards in US law.
Also, fast tracking and TPP would make easier for corporations to offshore jobs and force workers to compete with those in nations like Vietnam making less than 60-cents an hour, thus driving down wages and standards of living. NAFTA, they claim, is an example of exactly just that! After NAFTA, while trade did increase among US, Canada, and Mexico, at the same time many American jobs have also been displaced due to increased foreign competition and outsourcing offshore.
On the other side of the political spectrum, though, are Republicans working with President Obama, supporting the bill, since Republicans have always supported such free trade agreements. As a result, while in the past when Democrats controlled the Senate, the Senate majority leader had never passed the bill, the Republican controls in both Houses could change the tide.
This rift between Obama and the Democrats could be dangerous for the Democrats in the future, especially as 2016 nears. Some have asked Hillary Clinton on her stance with TPP since she had always supported similar pieces of legislation as Obama’s former Secretary of State, but she has not spoke definitively with her stance on the issue. But one thing we do know is that many of her progressive counterparts, Warren, Sanders, and Maryland Gov. O’Malley, who has announced Democratic candidacy, have moved to her left, against the agreement.
While the stances of Senate minority leader Nancy Pelosi and minority WHIP Steny Hoyer are still uncertain, this issue has made its way to the forefront of a significant political, economic, and national battleground, between both Democrats and Republicans. Such large-scale trade agreements affect everyone as a nation, the good and the bad. Understanding and following the issue is crucial for us to safeguard our self-interests and the country’s interests for generations to come.