January 20, 2016 11:51AM

The TPP Is All About the Details

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is in DC, and one of the things he is talking about is the Trans‐​Pacific Partnership (TPP). Addressing the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, he said this:

So, when I’m speaking to some of your legislators later today I‘ll be encouraging them to support the TPP. Not to lose sight of the wood for the trees, not to get lost in this detail or that detail or that compromise, because the big picture is: the rules‐​based international order, which America has underwritten for generations, which has underwritten the prosperity and the economic growth from which we have all benefitted, the TPP is a key element in that.

Along the same lines, this is from a conversation he had with President Obama:

… And can I say, as I’ve just said to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, encouraging them to encourage their congressmen and senators to support it, that the TPP is much more than a trade deal. The prosperity of the world, the security of the world has been founded on the peace and order in the Asia Pacific, which has been delivered underwritten by the United States and its allies, including Australia. 

And what we’ve been able to do there is deliver a period of peace, a long period of peace from which everybody has benefited. And America’s case — its proposition — is more than simply security. It is standing up for, as you said, the rules‐​based international order, an order where might is not right, where the law must prevail, where there is real transparency, where people can invest with confidence. 

And the TPP is lifting those standards. And so it is much more than a trade deal. And I think when people try to analyze it in terms of what it adds to this amount of GDP or that, that’s important. But the critical thing is the way it promotes the continued integration of those economies, because that is as important an element in our security in the maintenance of the values which both our countries share as all of our other efforts — whether they are in defense or whether they are in traditional diplomacy.

There’s lots of vague talk here, with the specifics glossed over. He says we should not “get lost in this detail or that detail,” but for me, the TPP is all about the details. As he notes, the TPP is “more than a trade deal.” So what else is it? In terms of its economic impact, that’s what we in Cato’s trade policy center are looking at right now, and we will offer our assessment in the coming months.

On the other hand, when you start hearing about “security,” and “peace,” and “order,” and how the TPP might contribute, I would be a little skeptical about what exactly the TPP can deliver here. That’s not to say it can offer nothing; but this kind of benefit is very hard to measure.