public diplomacy

The Trans Pacific Partnership: More Than Just Another Trade Agreement

As the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) comes under further congressional review and becomes a topic of contention on the 2016 campaign trail, increased scrutiny has formed in foreign and domestic arenas. Although the United States Trade Representative states that the Trans Pacific Partnership “writes the rules for global trade—rules that will help increase Made-in-America exports, grow the American economy, support well-paying American jobs, and strengthen the American middle class,” critics have written that these goals do not outweigh the negative impact on the American economy or American jobs. Currently, the TPP is being marketed primarily as a way to advance American leadership in the international economic community. However, American economic exceptionalism and perceived hegemony is not always positively received. Let us explore another approach. For example, expressing how the TPP will provide benefits that extend far beyond the trade and business arenas. What many critics of the TPP neglect to mention is the promotion of democracy, that is inherent in the agreement. The U.S. government has skillfully killed multiple birds with one stone in the Trans Pacific Partnership. Instituting labor laws, environmental protection stipulations, and ensuring a free and open Internet are non-trade associated benefits attached to the TPP. Countries that participate in the TPP are not only advancing their economies, but are also taking a pledge to institute democratic policies that the U.S. has historically advocated.


Photo courtesy of United States Trade Representative


Below are some examples non-trade benefits of TPP:

Labor Laws and Worker Protection

The TPP includes worker protection measures such as the right for employees to form unions, the elimination of child labor and forced labor, and the requirement of laws relation to minimum wages, hours of work, and occupational safety and health. These actions have democratic undertones and introduce more democratic policies to the countries that have signed the agreement. The TPP is a trailblazer for trade agreements signed after the Trade Promotion Authority bill, which specified that a principal objective of any future trade agreement should be binding and enforceable labor provisions, was passed. The USC Center on Public Diplomacy stated that expanding these rights to workers globally could create a new model for worker standards and a narrative that “no country is too poor or too underdeveloped” to have democratic values in their workplaces or in their society.


Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of State


Environmental Protection

Although climate change agreements have been signed, the TPP also acts as an environmental protection agreement. No trade agreement in history has included more comprehensive and enforceable environmental requirements than the TPP. Jacob Phelps, an environmental scientist who studies the effects of free trade on biodiversity, said there is a potential for the TPP to strengthen wildlife trade provisions through its prohibitions on illegal wildlife trafficking and conservation promotions. The Democracy Journal poignantly states that the TPP’s environmental protection stipulations can fight organized crime and terrorist groups that are involved in and profit from poaching/wildlife trafficking. Although the agreement is not perfect, it works toward the institution of a safer, more democratic world.


Photo courtesy of Share America, U.S. Department of State


Free and Open Internet

In an era where everything is digital, the TPP strives to make the Internet’s benefits available to all. This basic principle of equality of access is democratic in and of itself, but the Trans Pacific Partnership goes further by implementing rules that circumvent laws designed to restrict the flow of data and information. The Democracy Journal states that TPP will empower citizens by “safeguarding the digital economy and allow for new opportunities to exchange ideas, goods, and services.” The TPP offers various policies to keep the Internet free and open, including requiring governments to be transparent and implementing privacy laws that are in the public interest. Keeping the Internet an arena for innovation and free expression highlights one of the democratic values that Americans hold most dear: freedom of speech. Susan Aaronson from George Washington University’s Institute for International Economic Policy says that the TPP will have the most positive effects on the Internet “if policymakers use its provisions to enhance human welfare by challenging Internet censorship and filtering.” By ensuring digital freedom, the Trans Pacific Partnership extends First Amendment rights to global audiences, advancing democratic behavior on an international scale.

The TPP as a Democracy Promoter

Although critics of the TPP will reference its negative effects on the U.S. economy and on domestic jobs, they often neglect to mention the positive effects the agreement can have that are not related to trade or business. Advancing democracy and promoting democratic behavior across the Pacific Rim will have benefits that outweigh job quantities and average GDPs, and this is how the TPP can be sold. Paving an avenue for these twelve Asian countries to move towards democratic societies positively impacts the international community by setting new standards for trade agreements. We must present the TPP as a trailblazing agreement that exemplifies democracy and free trade as a connected unit that carves a legacy for the U.S. in global history.

To further exemplify the TPP’s nuanced, democratic nature, The Democracy Journal compares it with trade agreements in non-democratic states like China. The Journal explains how the majority of China’s trade agreements have no labor or environmental protections, allow state-owned enterprises to benefit from government subsidies, and undercut the competitiveness of other countries’ businesses. By instituting policies that solely serve the state economy, this type of trade agreement can miss out on enacting a change in political behavior. The Trans Pacific Partnership is about so much more than trade or business—it is about changing the global political environment and assisting countries to become more democratic. We have an obligation to push out initiatives that advance our own country, but we also have a shining opportunity to expand that advancement beyond our borders.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication. 


About bethanythomas1

Bethany Thomas is an undergraduate at GWU studying political science, focusing on the relationship between policy initiatives and democracy promotion.


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