Trans-Pacific Partnership: Is the Obama Administration Keeping Secrets About Its New Trade Agreement?

Are you aware of what’s in the Trans-Pacific Partnership that is currently being negotiated by President Obama? If the answer to that question is “no,” don’t feel bad, because the odds are pretty good that your members of Congress are just as in the loop as you are.

To be fair, by now most have probably at least heard of the TPP, but there are a great deal of questions and concerns surrounding it. These are not only limited to what provisions may be within the agreement, but also how it’s being handled internally within the White House.

First is the matter of just how secretive these negotiations seem to be. Now, it’s not like these negotiations are taking place in shadowy rooms in the seedy side of town with people whose allegiances are questionable. On the surface, the negotiations are reasonably open — they even have a website. The real issue lies in the fact that members of Congress who should have oversight over something the New York Times called the “most significant international commercial agreement since the creation of the World Trade Organization in 1995,” is that they don’t. In fact, members of Congress are relying on leaks of information to try to determine what exactly this deal involves. That kind of secrecy, which has essentially been in place since 2008, does not help the outward appearance of a White House recently hit by the PRISM scandal.

The second, and arguably larger issue, is what exactly the TPP will entail for America and the other countries who are involved. First, one thing that obviously is not included are rules against currency manipulation, prompting 224 members of the House of Representatives to send a letter to the president asking for this important inclusion. Currency manipulators like Japan and China (though China has not come to the table yet, but still may) see a great trade benefit by manipulating their currency to benefit their exporters.

This segues into a greater concern with the TPP — what exactly it does deal with. The great irony of such a trade agreement, is that it doesn’t really deal all that much with basic elements of trade. According to the New York Times, only five of the 29 chapters of the agreement would deal with anything that is considered traditional fare for a trade agreement, things like tariffs and quotas. Instead, a portion of the agreement will essentially serve to lock regulatory conditions into place, including restrictions on policy typically reserved for national governments. The pharmaceutical industry also looks to do well with the agreement, as copyright protections look likely to be extended, meaning drug prices will go up. Speaking of copyright, remember SOPA? It’s back. The New York Times points out that companies who sponsored SOPA are helping to push similar rules and regulations into the agreement, essentially bundling it in with the trade proposals.

Then there’s the final sticking point: the TPP likely won’t do anything to help average consumers or workers. Instead, the TPP would open up the opportunity to bring an end to the “Buy American” laws that exist today, and could open U.S.-based firms up to insurmountable competition. The net effect then is that workers suffer, meaning they don’t have money to buy products anyway. Not only that, but incentives for companies to offshore production and other functions to foreign countries would present another threat to the American workforce.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a tale of irony. It’s hard to call it much of a partnership when the majority of people don’t have any say. Then to top it off, while some may benefit, the overall effects for the common people look to be negligible at best and detrimental at worst.

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AJ Yohn

I am a Labor Studies and Employment Relations major at Penn State University. I am currently working in the real estate industry in my hometown, and am interested in topics across business and politics. I enjoy reading and playing video games.

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