With the 19th round of negotiations toward completing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement underway in Brunei, time is rapidly running out to finalize a deal before the member countries’ self-imposed deadline of the end of this year. But with the recent entry of the world’s third largest market, Japan, into the TPP and key sticking points like intellectual property (IP) protections and enforcement provisions remaining to be negotiated, one is forced to ask: What’s the rush?
It shouldn’t be all that surprising that the TPP has not progressed as fast as many would have hoped this year. We had an acting U.S. Trade Representative for several months before Michael Froman was confirmed by the Senate. And a 12-nation agreement that comprises approximately 40 percent of global trade was always going to be an ambitious lift, with each country having its own priorities. But as negotiators scramble to finish an historic free trade agreement that has been years in the making and could reshape global trade rules, perhaps they should take a step back and revisit the reason behind that deadline. At this late stage, it will be extremely difficult for U.S. negotiators to wrap up the TPP by year end without making untenable concessions on certain key issues such as ensuring the highest intellectual property rights (IPR) standards and protections in the agreement. That would be a grave mistake.
That’s because, in addition to the economic benefits the United States stands to reap from the TPP, the agreement also has the potential to serve as a model trade agreement that sets new global standards for international commerce, redefining the way we think about trade agreements. With the IPR chapters—arguably the most complex in the entire TPP—yet to be completed, now is the time for U.S. negotiators to insist that the TPP install robust IPR protections on issues ranging from 12 years of data exclusivity for biologics to protecting digital content from Internet piracy. As ITIF writes in Ensuring the Trans-Pacific Partnership Becomes a Gold-Standard Trade Agreement, if the TPP wants to represent a pact of nations in which innovation flourishes to the fullest possible extent, then it’s incumbent on all nations participating in the agreement to craft the highest levels of IPR protection possible. Certainly that should be given priority over finishing up the TPP in haste.
And about that arbitrary deadline: it’s good to set lofty goals that make participants in the TPP work harder to craft a robust agreement, and member countries should be applauded for their yeoman efforts to date. But the TPP, given its magnitude, is far too important to rush through. Let’s also not forget that 5 of our would-be 11 TPP partners—Canada, Chile, Mexico, Peru, and Vietnam—remain on USTR’s Special 301 Watch List (with Chile on the Priority Watch List) as countries that are not currently living up to their obligations to protect the interests of foreign intellectual property rights holders. A goal for our negotiators must be to ensure that these nations start playing by the rules before being rewarded with additional benefits, instead of bowing to pressure and putting the United States at a competitive disadvantage.
By doing so, and by putting particular emphasis on the intellectual property chapters of the TPP, we can ensure that we’re both crafting an agreement that ensures all American industries, from agriculture to information technology, can compete on a level playing field, while at the same time crafting an agreement that will create the conditions by which innovation can flourish in all TPP member nations.