CAMBRIDGE – Agreement among negotiators from 12 Pacific Rim countries on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) represents a triumph over long odds. Tremendous political obstacles, both domestic and international, had to be overcome to conclude the deal. And now critics of the TPP’s ratification, particularly in the United States, should read the agreement with an open mind.
Many of the issues surrounding the TPP have been framed, at least in US political terms, as left versus right. The left’s unremitting hostility to the deal – often on the grounds that the US Congress was kept in the dark about its content during negotiations – carried two dangers. A worthwhile effort could have been blocked, or President Barack Obama’s Democratic administration could have been compelled to be more generous to American corporations, in order to pick up needed votes from Republicans. In fact, those concerned about labor rights and the environment risked hurting their own cause. By seeming to say that they would not support the TPP under any conditions, Obama had little incentive to pursue their demands.
Seen in this light, the TPP that has emerged is a pleasant surprise. The agreement gives pharmaceutical firms, tobacco companies, and other corporations substantially less than they had asked for – so much so that US Senator Orrin Hatch and some other Republicans now threaten to oppose ratification. Likewise, the deal gives environmentalists more than they had bothered to ask for.
Perhaps some of these outcomes were the result of hard bargaining by other trading partners (such as Australia). Regardless, the TPP’s critics should now read the specifics that they have so long said they wanted to see and reconsider their opposition to the deal.