THE NEWS MEDIA and advocates of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement have repeatedly described opponents of the deal as “protectionist” or opposed to trade itself.
For instance, after Donald Trump pressed Hillary Clinton to swear off passage of the deal, the New York Times reported that Trump was embracing “nationalistic anti-trade policies.” The Wall Street Journal said Trump expressed “protectionist views.” President Obama warned that you can’t withdraw “from trade deals” and focus “solely on your local market.”
But opposition to the TPP is not accurately described as opposition to all trade, or even to free trade.
In fact, the deal’s major impact would not come in the area of lowering tariffs, the most common trade barriers. The TPP is more focused on crafting regulatory regimes that benefit certain industries.
So the most consequential parts of the deal would actually undermine the free flow of goods and services by expanding some protectionist, anti-competitive policies sought by global corporations.
“We already have trade agreements with six of the 11 countries. Canada and Mexico — our two biggest trading partners — are in there. The tariffs are almost zero [with those countries] anyhow,” Dean Baker, an economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, told The Intercept. “What’s in the deal? Higher patent and copyright protection! That’s protectionism.”
The U.S. International Trade Commission’s own report on the agreement notes that “few tariffs remain between the United States and its existing [free trade agreement] partners,” which compose a majority of TPP countries.
It’s true that past trade deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) have dramatically lowered tariffs, freeing companies to move manufacturing jobs out of the country. And as a result, the very notion of trade agreements has left many Americans understandably skeptical.
Concerns that the TPP would lead to even more job losses “are real and I think that the political discussion is responding to those concerns from both parties,” Melinda St. Louis, director of international campaigns at Public Citizen, told The Intercept. But, she noted, “I do think that the trade aspects of the TPP are a small part of it. It’s only six of 30 chapters that have to do with trade and goods really at all. The rest of it is about setting global rules.”
One of the proposed TPP rules, for instance, involves the expansion of copyrights, which would impose anti-competitive costs on economies.
The agreement has been harshly criticized by humanitarian organizations like Doctors Without Borders, which deploys thousands of doctors overseas to offer medical care to those who cannot afford it, because it expands monopoly protections and patents for various pharmaceutical drugs.
For instance, the agreement requires the countries involved to offer eight years of market exclusivity, or five years plus other mechanisms, to assure “comparable market outcome” for a class of pharmaceutical products calledbiologics. These cutting-edge, biologically manufactured drugs have been used to treat Crohn’s disease, arthritis, and other common ailments — and expanding market exclusivity means there is less room for competitors to produce lower-cost generic drugs to compete.