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The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP): Key Provisions and Issues for Congress

By US Congressional Research Service

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a proposed free trade agreement (FTA) among 12 Asia-Pacific countries, with both economic and strategic significance for the United States. The proposed agreement is perhaps the most ambitious FTA undertaken by the United States in terms of its size, the breadth and depth of its commitments, its potential evolution, and its geo-political significance. Signed on February 4, 2016, after several years of negotiations, if implemented, TPP would be the largest FTA in which the United States participates, and would eliminate trade barriers and establish new trade rules and disciplines on a range of issues among TPP partners not found in previous U.S. FTAs or the World Trade Organization (WTO). In addition, the TPP is designed to better integrate the United States into the growing Asia-Pacific region and has become the economic centerpiece of the Administration’s “rebalance” to the region. Congress would need to enact implementing legislation for the agreement to enter into force for the United States. Such legislation would be considered under Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) procedures, unless Congress determines the Administration has not met TPA requirements.
 
TPP Members
Currently, the TPP includes Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam, which together comprise 40% of the world’s GDP. TPP is envisioned as a “living agreement,” potentially addressing new issues and open to future members, including as a possible vehicle to advance a wider Asia-Pacific free trade area. The United States currently has FTAs with six TPP partner countries. Japan is the largest economy and trading partner without an existing U.S. FTA. Malaysia and Vietnam also stand out among TPP countries without existing U.S. FTAs, given the rapid growth in U.S. trade with the two nations over the past three decades and their generally higher level of trade restrictions.

Potential Outcomes of TPP
The TPP would provide several principal trade liberalization and rules-based outcomes for the United States. These include the following:

  • lower tariff and nontariff barriers on U.S. goods through eventual elimination of all tariffs on industrial products and most tariffs and quotas on agricultural products;
  • greater service sector liberalization with enhanced disciplines, such as nondiscriminatory and minimum standard of treatment, along with certain exceptions;
  • additional intellectual property rights protections in patent, copyrights, trademarks, and trade secrets; first specific data protection provisions for biologic drugs and new criminal penalties for cyber-theft of trade secrets;
  • investment protections that guarantee nondiscriminatory treatment, minimum standard of treatment and other provisions to protect foreign investment, balanced by provisions to protect a state’s right to regulate in the public interest;
  • enforceable provisions designed to provide minimum standards of labor and environmental protection in TPP countries;
  • commitments, without an enforcement mechanism, to avoid currency manipulation, provide transparency and reporting concerning monetary policy, and engage in regulatory dialogue among TPP parties;
  • digital trade commitments to promote the free flow of data and to prevent data localization, except for data localization in financial services, alongside commitments on privacy and exceptions for legitimate public policy purposes;
  • enhanced regulatory transparency and due process provisions in standards-setting; and
  • the most expansive disciplines on state-owned enterprises ever in a U.S. FTA or the WTO, albeit with exceptions, to advance fair competition with private firms based on commercial considerations.


The U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) has estimated that the TPP would bring modest overall benefits to the U.S. economy once implemented, slightly increasing both output (0.15%) and employment (0.07%) above a baseline scenario without the agreement. According to the USITC study, most agriculture and services sectors would see expansions, while some manufacturing and natural resources sectors would be expected to contract relative to baseline projections as resources shifted within the U.S. economy.

TPP Debate
Views on the likely effects of the agreement vary. Proponents argue that the TPP is in the national interest and has the potential to boost economic growth and jobs through expanded trade and investment opportunities in what many see as the world’s most economically vibrant region. Opponents of TPP voice concerns over possible job loss and competition in import-sensitive industries. Other concerns include how a TPP agreement might limit the government’s ability to regulate in areas such as health, food safety, and the environment. The Obama Administration and others have argued that the strategic value of a TPP agreement parallels its economic value, while others argue that past trade pacts have had a limited impact on broad foreign policy dynamics. In analyzing the agreement and its implementing legislation, Congress may consider the agreement from several of these perspectives, as well as how the TPP promotes progress on U.S. trade negotiating objectives.

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