The Politics of the TPP

In the trade policy world, everyone is eagerly awaiting the release of the full text of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, but trade news sources say this is still several weeks away. My colleague Bill Watson has done a nice job with the one chapter, on intellectual property, that is available in mostly final form through a leak, but for the rest of the text, it is hard to say too much at this point.

But if we can’t talk much about substance yet, what we can talk about is the politics of the TPP: What are its chances in Congress?  The Obama administration has taken a somewhat creative approach to assembling a coalition from across the political spectrum in support of the TPP.

They have tried to appeal to free market conservatives by talking about how the TPP would involve “18,000 tax cuts,” in the form of lower tariffs on U.S. exports.

They have tried to bring in liberal support by calling it the “most progressive trade agreement in history.”

And some people have portrayed the TPP as having a security component, in order to bring security hawks on board.

But here’s a key question related to the first two: Can they bring in supporters without creating new opponents?  For example, with regard to the TPP’s “progressive” nature, the administration says the TPP would do the following on labor protections: “Require laws on acceptable conditions of work related to minimum wages, hours of work, and occupational safety and health.”  Focusing on the first one, what exactly would the TPP require with a minimum wage?  If it requires that all TPP countries have a minimum wage – either set at a particular level, or just having one at all – some Republicans in Congress might object.

With trade agreements these days addressing so many aspects of social policy, assembling a package of provisions that Congress will support is a challenge. Putting aside the substance, which we will get to once the text is released, the politics of the TPP are going to be very interesting.

Topics: