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The [CP] Trans-Pacific Partnership

Gary N Horlick

Law Offices of Gary N Horlick

Thursday 15 August 2019


The Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, is a trade agreement signed on 4 February 2016 involving 12 countries: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam. The text was released on 26 January 2016, in ‘scrubbed’ form. The US, under the new Trump Administration, formally withdrew its signature (so there would be no lingering legal obligations as a signatory) in late January 2017. The other TPP countries met in Santiago, Chile in March 2017 and decided to redraft it without the US (essentially, by ‘suspending’ the obligations the US most sought). The resulting Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) was signed in late 2017 and ratified by sufficient countries in time to enter into force (with initial tariff cuts) on 30 December 2018.

The origins of the TPP began with the P4, formed in the middle of the last decade by Brunei, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore. By 2008, Australia and Peru had joined, and Vietnam was in the process of joining. Ambassador Susan Schwab, then US Trade Representative for the Bush administration, took the US into the negotiations that year in a way that did not lead the Obama administration to drop it as a Bush initiative.

The Obama administration, after considerable debate, decided to make the TPP its main trade policy initiative in its first term. Trade is a divisive issue within the Democratic Party, and some in the new administration had hoped to avoid trade issues during the first year in office in 2009, while focusing on the enormous challenges of the global financial crisis.

Even before the 2008 election, the Obama administration had wanted to focus on Asia (at least in part to match increasing Chinese influence), while at the same time some thought the TPP was ‘too small’ to bother the unions. Whatever the reasons, in November 2009, President Barack Obama at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Japan announced that the US would engage with the TPP. Although ‘engage’ sounds to some like a euphemism for a half¬-hearted commitment, it turned out to be a more legalistic choice of words − even before obtaining formal negotiating authority (trade promotion authority – TPA) through legislation, the Obama administration had decided to follow the domestic formalities of the TPA legislation that had expired in 2008. One part of that legislation was that ‘negotiations’ could not start until 90 days after the president had notified Congress of the intention to enter into negotiations.

There are two key aspects of the CPTPP agreement.

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