Trans-Pacific Partnership: Amid Scandal, A Global Opportunity to Display Positive American Policy

It may not surprise you that the Obama administration is planning something big, keeping Congress and the public largely in the dark, and withholding information that would resonate and directly impact not only all Americans, but also a large portion of the world’s population. And that the effort will be led by a former U.S. national security official, no less.

It may surprise you that the buried truth is the beginnings of a trade deal set to be negotiated under the leadership of new U.S. Trade Representative Mike Froman, formerly Obama's deputy national security advisor for international economic affairs. It's a deal that would see economic barriers between nations in key parts of the developed world fall rapidly and undoubtedly spark the global marketplace into positive action ­— a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) regional free trade agreement.

In fact, President Obama and his team of senior trade officials have been working with international partners directly over the past few years to craft a deal that would change the landscape of international trade entirely with neighbors Mexico and Canada, and several countries lining the Pacific Rim including Australia, Brunei, Chile, Canada, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. 

The administration is doing so largely without consulting members of Congress who currently hold official authority to alter and ultimately decide whether details of the agreement will be written into law. Besides posting skeletal information online about TPP and consulting an exclusive team of private-sector "trade advisors," the administration is also doing so with little outreach to the American public that will benefit from the deal if reached.

Why would the executive branch hold something so potentially significant to many Americans so close to its chest? Leverage, internally and externally.

It is no secret among the global community that things at the World Trade Organization are stalled and that most of the world's traders are looking for alternative options to distribute the goods and services necessary to keep the globe spinning.

For its part, the United States is playing the role of chief architect in a collaborative movement towards opting for regional trade agreements over the seemingly unattainable, wide-ranging global guidelines once expected from the "Doha Round" of WTO talks launched in 2001.

Meanwhile, the United States and its TPP partner countries have been speaking behind closed doors for the greater part of Obama's tenure as president to guarantee that the TPP framework is solid enough to withstand serious negotiations among partners with different trade priorities, resulting adversarial commentary from nations left out of the agreement (i.e. China), and, most importantly, that the framework will hold up as it enters the congressional gauntlet once step removed from the American public.

Obama's choice of Froman as the next USTR points to his commitment to upholding the highest national security standards while opening the flood gates for increased trade and commerce with America’s Pacific counterparts. 

If TPP negotiations are successful, the agreement has potential to finalize the participation of Japan and other Asia countries currently still on the fence and to inspire China and other top U.S. trade competitors to join the regional trade movement (from the U.S. perspective, this would be an ambitious result to say the least). 

Hopefully recent events will jolt the administration back into transparency mode and inspire them to shed light on TPP's details.  

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Brian Principato

Brian works as the Director of Communications for an international business advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. He recently finished his Masters in International Trade & Security Policy at George Mason University.

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