Business

TPP: What is it and why does it matter?

  • 3 February 2016
  • From the section Business
TPP protestors Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Governments and large corporations may have hammered out agreements to craft a TPP that suits them - some see no gain though for workers

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is one of the most ambitious free trade agreements ever signed.

Those in favour say this trade deal will unleash new economic growth among countries involved.

Those against - particularly some Americans - fear it could mean jobs will move from the US to developing countries.

They also do not like the fact the five-year talks were held largely in secret.

TPP in a nutshell

It involves 12 countries: the US, Japan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, Brunei, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, Chile and Peru.

The pact aims to deepen economic ties between these nations, slashing tariffs and fostering trade to boost growth.

Member countries are also hoping to foster a closer relationship on economic policies and regulation.

The agreement could create a new single market something like that of the EU.

Which goods and services are affected?

Most goods and services are involved, but not all tariffs - which are taxes on imports - are going to be removed and some will take longer than others. In all, some 18,000 tariffs are affected.

For example, the signatories have said they will either eliminate or reduce tariffs and other restrictive policies from agricultural products and industrial goods.

Tariffs on US manufactured goods and almost all US farm products will go almost immediately once the deal is ratified.

On textiles and clothing, they will be removing all tariffs, but while the US Trade Representative says most tariffs will be removed immediately after the deal is ratified, "tariffs on some sensitive products will be eliminated over longer timeframes as agreed by the TPP Parties".

On trade in services, they have agreed that free trade would be quite a good thing, and in some areas, they are going to liberalise trade.

The full text of the TPP agreement - which runs to 30 chapters - has now been published and you can read it all here.

You can find more on the specific industries involved here.

When did it start?

It began with the P4 trade agreement between just four nations - Brunei, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore - that came into effect 10 years ago.

That deal removed tariffs on most goods traded between the countries, promised to cut more and also to co-operate on wider issues such as employment practices, intellectual property and competition policies.

How big a deal is the TPP?

Pretty big indeed. The 12 countries have a collective population of about 800 million - almost double that of the European Union's single market. The 12-nation would-be bloc is already responsible for 40% of world trade.

The deal is a remarkable achievement given the very different approaches and standards within the member countries, including environmental protection, workers' rights and regulatory coherence - not to mention the special protections that some countries have for certain industries.

What do critics say?

They argue it it has been a not-so-secret gambit to keep China at bay - which is not part of the TPP. For its part, China has given it the TPP a cautious welcome.

Others claim it paves the way for companies to sue governments that change policy on, say, health and education to favour state-provided services.

The TPP will also intensify competition between countries' labour forces.

But the biggest criticism has been of what the campaigners allege were secretive negotiations, in which governments were said to be seeking to bring in sweeping changes without voters' knowledge.

Defenders say the reason the negotiations were not made public was because there was no formal agreement on them.

Is this the same thing as TTIP?

Confusingly not.

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, now generally known as TTIP, is a deal to cut tariffs and regulatory barriers to trade between the US and member states of the EU. Negotiations here are at an earlier stage.

You can read more about it here.

What happens next?

The text of the agreement will have to be signed and then ratified by all 12 signatories. Details of how the deal will be implemented will be argued out in individual countries' legislatures.

In the US, it comes before Congress in the midst of a presidential election year, which is likely to turn it into a major political football within both parties.

However, Congress has granted President Obama "fast-track" authority over the deal, which only allows lawmakers to either reject it or ratify it.

More on this story