Negotiations toward completing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) continue this week in Malaysia. While this potential trade agreement would tie the United States more closely to several key Asian markets, a number of important details still need to be negotiated among the nations at the bargaining table. Perhaps the most important of these issues is the intellectual property protections that will be included in the final agreement.
As this marks the first round of negotiations since new United States Trade Representative Michael Froman was confirmed by the Senate, the United States needs to seize the opportunity to make an aggressive push for the inclusion of strong intellectual property rights in the TPP. While some developing nations condone or enact lax enforcement of intellectual property rights as a means of accelerating growth, in the long run strong intellectual property rights benefit all economies. The promise of economic reward that comes with intellectual property rights incentivizes innovation, enhances the development of domestic industries, and can ultimately help transform nations from developing to developed.
Given the size and scope of the nations in the agreement, the TPP will likely serve as the standard against which future international trade pacts are measured. In a report from last August, Ensuring the Trans-Pacific Partnership Becomes a Gold-Standard Trade Agreement, ITIF stressed that given this environment the TPP must properly address the rising tide of anti-free trade policies, including lax IP protections, which are being promulgated by numerous countries. This will serve as a message to the globe that the U.S. and its allies will make fair and open trade a key component of any trade pact.
Currently, six nations at the TPP bargaining table find themselves on the USTR Watch List of countries maintaining inadequate intellectual property protections. Given this, it’s crucial that Ambassador Froman demand intellectual property rights at least equal to those guaranteed in U.S. law are included in the TPP. We have seen signs of U.S. trade negotiators staking out strong positions, with news reports (login required) suggesting U.S. negotiators may begin pushing for 12 years of data protection for biologic pharmaceuticals. In key sectors of our innovation economy, maintaining robust IP protections will be critical to future job and export growth, and must be included as part of any trade deal to be considered a “win” for the United States.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership has the potential to be enormously beneficial for both the U.S. economy and American workers, opening markets in places like Malaysia and Vietnam to American goods. But if the United States does not insist on strong intellectual property protections in the agreement, American industry and workers may suffer dearly.