The TPP: Origins and Outcomes

Chapter 34 in Handbook of International Trade Agreements: Country, regional and global approaches, edited by Robert E. Looney, London: Routledge, 2018.

October 10, 2018

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was an international commercial agreement among 12 nations in the Asia-Pacific region representing about 38 percent of the global economy. It included wide-ranging obligations to eliminate almost all tariffs and reduce other barriers to trade and investment in goods and services, new rules governing domestic policies that affect international commerce, and enforcement and dispute resolution procedures to promote compliance with the TPP provisions. In terms of the breadth and depth of the reforms agreed by the partner countries, the TPP was more comprehensive than any commercial accord since the ill-fated 1948 Charter for an International Trade Organization (ITO).

The USA was the lead architect of the TPP; the pact closely resembled and augmented previous US free trade agreements (FTAs) and required relatively minor changes in existing US law and practice. After almost six years of negotiations, the TPP agreement was signed on 4 February 2016. But despite the preponderant US influence on the treaty text, there still was strong opposition in the US Congress to specific provisions of the TPP, which delayed congressional action on the trade pact. As with the ITO, Congress never considered that the TPP would be implementing legislation in 2016. The new Trump administration subsequently withdrew the US signature in late January 2017 for unspecified but largely political reasons.

Interestingly, the US withdrawal from the TPP did not kill the deal. Instead, the remaining signatories decided to go forward with a slightly revised pact, renamed the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). The basic deal was kept intact with only minor revisions to the original substantive obligations and entry into force provisions. On January 23, 2018, the 11 remaining TPP signatories agreed to finalize work on the CPTPP provisions and to sign the revised deal in Chile on March 8, 2018.