After fierce resistance from Australia and several Asian countries, the United States is again making an aggressive move to get the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) approved in all member states.
American Secretary of State John Kerry has flown to Singapore, where he will meet with several Asian dignitaries to hammer out a deal on the TPP. A few sticking points, such as Americans’ insistence on strict regulations of patented prescription drugs, have caused other states to balk at the agreement, with Australia making the loudest protests over the lack of free trade agreements within the agreement.
The treaty involves the largest North American economies and several smaller developing Asian countries, as well as Australia, as potential members. Most notably is the exclusion of China from the agreement, although neighbors such as Vietnam, Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan are all negotiating in the agreement.
Kerry has admitted in a press conference that the deal is facing stumbling blocks, but at the same time told reporters that its completion would be a major economic milestone and an essential move in safeguarding U.S. interests in the world’s fastest growing economic area.
While many economists support the agreement, several politicians have criticized the secretive nature of the policy, and have pointed out that there have been few studies done of how much it would benefit American workers, with the precedent of NAFTA indicating that it could be less beneficial for low-skilled workers than many economists expect.
“No Reverse Gear"
Whether the treaty will be a net plus for American workers, John Kerry has argued that such an agreement is inevitable and, like it or not, a necessity in today’s economic reality. Citing observations about growing income inequality and lower living conditions in the U.S., Kerry said protectionism is not the answer. "The remedy is not to pull back from trade agreements themselves or attempt to stop globalization, because that’s not possible,” he said, adding “globalization has no reverse gear."
Trade unions have viciously opposed the treaty, as have some politicians such as presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, who has discussed the agreement in several interviews. “These trade agreements have ended up devastating working families and enriching large corporations,” Sanders said in one interview
He added that Republicans and Democrats have worked together. “We have lost over 60,000 factories in the United States” in the last thirteen years, Sanders noted, adding that free trade agreements make it possible for companies to offshore jobs and lower total employment in the United States.
“Companies think: why should we pay an American worker $15 an hour, when the minimum wage in Vietnam is 28 cents an hour? Why should we give jobs here when we could go to Vietnam?"
Kerry will meet with ASEAN members in Kuala Lumpur to convince Southeast Asian countries, including Vietnam, to agree with the TPP as well as corporate-sponsored limitations on generic drug production in those countries.