12 Countries Finally Reach Agreement On Trans-Pacific Partnership; Now Congress Gets To Fight About It Next

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) hasn’t technically been in the works since the dawn of time, but it sure does feel like it sometimes. Negotiations first began in 2008, and culminated in a formal agreement being announced yesterday. With 12 nations having now more-or-less agreed on what is billed as the largest, most momentous international agreement of our time, one big question remains: now what?

Canada, the U.S., Mexico, Peru, Chile, New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore, Vietnam, and Japan — all Pacific rim nations making up about 40% of the global economy — have been hammering out the details of the massive, 30-chapter treaty for years. The agreement covers everything from prescription drugs to agriculture and the internet, and includes enforcement mechanisms giving it some teeth both domestically and abroad.


The finalized agreement contains 30 chapters; the official announcement from the White House touts nine key achievements from among them. Some of those include:

  • Eliminating taxes on many American-made exported goods
  • Requiring all participating nations to meet certain minimal labor standards
  • Environmental protections, particularly for some ocean-dwelling species
  • Protecting digital freedom and the open internet
  • Requiring state-owned businesses in other nations to adhere to certain competitive standards that privately-owned (especially American) businesses have to follow

The known areas of the TPP generally sound beneficial at first blush. However, critics around the nation and worldwide have continued to express concerns about the details, and the various devils waiting in them.

The text has been and remains non-public for the time being. Some leaks along the way have created concern, however, especially in the areas of copyright and IP law.

Every participating nation now has to undertake its own process for formally signing on to the agreement. In the United States, that means moving the process from the exclusive purview of the executive branch, where the office of the Trade Representative resides, over to the legislative branch. In short, now Congress gets to stick its oar in.

The Senate has to vote on the completed treaty for it to become ratified. However, unlike the process of drafting and passing domestic legislation, the TPP exists under something called fast-track authority. That means the finished, negotiated treaty goes to the Senate for a vote as-is: no amendments, no changes, and no negotiations allowed. It’s a binary yes-or-no vote, full stop.

In order to pass, completed treaties need a 2/3 vote — 67 senators — to approve the measure. And that’s where it’s going to get complicated.

Getting 2/3 of the current Senate to agree on anything in the year 2015 is like trying to convince a sack full of cats to sing a Mozart opera. And politically speaking, sentiment for and against the TPP has made for some strange bedfellows here in the U.S.

While most Congressional disagreements these days are distinctly partisan, opposition to this trade agreement has dotted up on both sides of the aisle. Reasons for opposing provisions of the treaty vary from increasing income inequality to insufficient protection for certain American industries (like tobacco). But although left-leaning and right-leaning individuals and groups oppose different provisions of the TPP for different reasons, the result is the same: they don’t want to approve the deal.

Under the fast-track authority, the president has to give Congress 90 days’ notice before he signs the deal, then wait another 30 days before bringing it to Congress as legislation to pass. Even if that process started right this minute, 90 days from October 6 brings us to January 4, 2016. Add another 30 days and you’re well into February. Insiders speculate that realistically, it is likely to be April or even later by the time the Senate has to vote.

Stick that against the political backdrop of the looming 2016 elections, and it’s basically time for Washington watchers to go get a bucket of popcorn and watch the sparks fly.

Trans-Pacific Partnership Is Reached, but Faces Scrutiny in Congress [The New York Times]
FACT SHEET: How the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Boosts Made in America Exports, Supports Higher-Paying American Jobs, and Protects American Workers [The White House]

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