Fair Trade

The TPP's Promise and Pitfalls

A worker uses a blow torch to break up parts of a ship brought to shore for scrap metal near Tanjung Priok port in North Jakarta December 3, 2015.  Darren Whiteside / Reuters

The rebalance to Asia undertaken by the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama is perhaps the most important Western initiative in the region since U.S. President Richard Nixon went to China in the early 1970s. A linchpin for this strategy is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a sweeping trade agreement that has been tasked with three main objectives: to bring the United States closer to Asia’s sizable economic markets, to establish the world’s largest free trade zone, and to challenge China’s dominance in the Pacific Rim.

After the agreement’s actual text was released in November, though, critics of the TPP have raised doubts about whether it can achieve any of those goals. Several influential members of Congress, including Senators Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), have expressed their disappointment with aspects of the deal. Sanders, a U.S. presidential candidate, stated that “the disastrous Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement . . . will hurt consumers and cost American jobs." Industry representatives from Ford Motor Company and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America have expressed concerns with the lack of provisions against currency manipulation and more extensive patent protection for brand-name drugs, respectively.

The TPP’s detractors all have their points, but the five years of negotiation that led to the deal should not go to waste. If the TPP is to live up to its creators’ expectations, its member states must come up with solutions to the problems that its critics have identified. Long-term, innovative policies are required to make the TPP work, whether the deal is perfect or not.


The TPP does have both benefits and drawbacks for the United States. According to a widely cited report by the Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE), the TPP’s total benefits to the global economy could reach $223 billion by 2025. That same year, U.S. income gains would hit $77 billion, or 0.1 percent of the nation’s GDP. U.S. export gains are also projected to reach $54.8 billion, an increase

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