Getting the Trans-Pacific Partnership Right

WASHINGTON, DC – The United States Congress has now given President Barack Obama so-called fast-track negotiating authority to conclude the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the proposed mega-regional free-trade agreement among the US and 11 other countries. But Obama’s victory was not an easy one: Members of his own Democratic Party overwhelmingly opposed fast-track authority, which limits Congress to a single up-or-down vote on finished trade agreements, thereby ruling out amendments. The fast-track measure, officially known as Trade Promotion Authority, passed only because Obama was able to rely on rare backing from the Republican majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

But the Democrats have a point. They want the Obama administration to ensure that the TPP includes core international labor standards for all participants, a high level of environmental protection, and access to affordable medicines, among other measures. If the administration takes these entirely reasonable demands on board, the resulting agreement would have considerable bipartisan support. If it chooses to ignore such demands, the final agreement would be much more polarizing – and would be approved by Congress with very little Democratic support.

Though Obama has promised that the TPP will be the most progressive trade agreement in history, which is achievable, the shroud of secrecy that surrounds almost all details of the negotiations has made it difficult to evaluate claims and counterclaims on this point. But once the agreement is concluded, it will be published in full, leaving no possibility of obfuscation.

And the markers that have been laid down by congressional Democrats are very clear, quite specific, and well thought-out. In fact, in an agreement between House Democrats and former President George W. Bush’s administration in May 2007, almost all of the key principles were already spelled out in considerable detail.