Publication Date

11-19-2015

Abstract

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a proposed free trade agreement (FTA) among 12 Asia-Pacific countries, with both economic and strategic significance for the United States. If approved, it would be the largest FTA in which the United States participates. The 12 countries announced the conclusion of the TPP negotiations on October 5, 2015, after several years of ongoing talks. The President released the text of the agreement and notified Congress of his intent to sign on November 5, 2015. Congress would need to pass implementing legislation for a final TPP agreement to enter into force for the United States. Such legislation would be eligible to receive expedited legislative consideration under the recent grant of Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), P.L. 114-26, if Congress determines the Administration has advanced the TPA negotiating objectives, and met various notification and consultation requirements. TPP negotiating parties include Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam.

Through the TPP, the participating countries seek to liberalize trade and investment and establish new rules and disciplines in the region beyond what exists in the World Trade Organization (WTO). The FTA is envisioned as a living agreement that will be open to future members and may become a vehicle to advance a wider Asia-Pacific free trade area. It is a U.S. policy response to the rapidly increasing economic and strategic linkages among Asian-Pacific nations and has become the economic centerpiece of the Administration’s “rebalance” to the region. The TPP has slowly evolved from a more limited agreement among four countries concluded in 2006 into the current 12-country FTA agreement, with the United States joining the negotiations in 2008. Japan, the most recent country to participate, joined the negotiations in 2013. This significantly increased the potential economic significance of the agreement to the United States, because Japan is the largest economy and trading partner without an existing U.S. FTA among TPP negotiating partners (thus having greater scope for trade liberalization with the United States). The United States already has FTAs with 6 of the 11 other countries participating. Malaysia and Vietnam also stand out among the TPP countries without existing U.S. FTAs, given the rapid growth in U.S. trade with the two nations over the past three decades and substantial presence of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) that will be affected by the TPP’s SOE provisions.

Views on the potential impact of the agreement vary. Proponents argue that the TPP has the opportunity to boost economic growth and jobs through expanded trade and investment opportunities with negotiating partners that currently make up 37% of total U.S. goods and services trade, involves writing new trade rules and disciplines, and deepening U.S. trade and investment integration in what many see as the world’s most economically vibrant region. The agreement would eventually eliminate all tariffs on manufactured products and most agricultural goods. It also includes new trade disciplines on issues such as digital trade barriers, state-owned enterprises (SOEs), and regulatory coherence, among other provisions. Opponents voice concerns over potential job loss and competition in import-sensitive industries, and how a TPP agreement might limit U.S. ability to regulate in areas such as health, food safety, and the environment, among other concerns.

The Obama Administration, joined by many analysts as well as many policymakers in the region, has argued that the strategic value of a potential TPP agreement parallels its economic value, contending that the agreement would strengthen U.S. allies and partners and reaffirm U.S. economic leadership in the region. The President has repeatedly highlighted the importance of maintaining U.S. leadership in crafting global trade rules, notably with reference to potentially alternative Chinese initiatives. China is not a party to the TPP. Others argue that past trade pacts have had a limited impact on broad foreign policy dynamics.

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Suggested Citation
Fergusson, I. F., McMinimy, M. A., & Williams, B. R. (2015). The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP): In brief (CRS Report R44278). Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service.

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