MELBOURNE, Australia—Last week the United States concluded its first round of negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement here. The U.S. delegation was led by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, who engaged in trade talks with counterparts from seven countries: Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.
The TPP agreement could provide a boost to the U.S. economy, particularly in increased U.S. exports to the Asia Pacific region. According to USTR, U.S. goods exports to the Asia Pacific totaled $747 billion in 2008, up 8.3 percent over 2007, with agricultural products comprising $76 billion in 2008. The Obama administration hopes that the TPP Agreement will push members of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) to create an Asia-Pacific free trade zone.
The TPP agreement will likely cover labor, environment, intellectual property rights, textiles, industrial goods, agriculture, standards, telecommunications, financial services, customs, rules of origin, government procurement, and trade capacity building. During the first round of weeklong negotiations, the U.S. team exchanged views on negotiating approaches and introduced ideas about crosscutting issues with the other TPP participants. The U.S. agreed to draft concept papers, exchange information, and undertake other work in preparation for the second TPP round of negotiations in June. The U.S. will be consulting with Congress and private industry, and will likely start considering text for the TPP Agreement as negotiators move forward.
President Obama announced on November 14, 2009 that his administration would start negotiations on the TPP agreement. The TPP agreement was initially introduced, however, by President George W. Bush in 2008, as the “P-4 Agreement” between the United States and Singapore, Chile, New Zealand, and Brunei. The TPP Agreement will give President Obama a chance to take a strong stance on trade, and to provide a boost to the U.S. economy. A continuation of strong trade policies would benefit U.S. workers and would help to create jobs.
The Obama administration faces a challenge in trying to set itself apart from the Bush administration, yet carry forward strong trade goals that will lead to increased exports. There are several sensitive areas that may challenge the Obama administration, including in the areas of environment and labor, where Congress could pressure the administration to seek stronger labor and environmental rules than most TPP members would prefer. In the area of intellectual property, the Obama administration will need to delicately balance the need for strong intellectual property provisions to protect U.S. interests, yet may face pressure from Congress who may call for the weakening of certain intellectual property protections in the agreement. TPP members may also call for the introduction of new issues into the TPP Agreement that have not traditionally been included in past free-trade agreements, which would pose new challenges to the Obama administration and Congress.
It is critical that President Obama stay tough on trade in order to achieve his goals of doubling U.S. exports in the next five years and creating more jobs in the U.S.
Jennifer Choe Groves is a former senior White House trade official, who served in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative under Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush.