The secret world of Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)

Quick Summary

  • No texts or negotiating positions have been officially released by the TPP countries in public domain even after 19 rounds of negotiationss
  • Only information available is through leaked texts.
  • When in force, TPP will represent 40% of the global economy.
  • TPPmap.jpg

    Negotiators from the 12 TPP countries - Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam, concluded their week-long negotiations in Brunei on August 30, without announcing any breakthroughs. The agreement pushed forward by the Obama administration since 2010 has been shrouded in secrecy all through its 19 rounds of negotiations till now. It has often ran into protests in many countries amid fears that it will leave domestic markets exposed to foreign competition without adequate protection.

    TPP is a proposed regional “comprehensive and high-standard” free trade agreement (FTA) currently under negotiation between 12 countries in three continents. It has been called a "high quality, 21st century" agreement that covers a range of topics for which separate working groups have been established. These are - market access for goods and services, agriculture, technical barriers to trade, sanitary and phyto-sanitary measures, transparency in healthcare technology and pharmaceutical, rules of origin, customs cooperation, investment, services, non-conforming measures, financial services, telecommunications, e-commerce, business mobility, labour, environment, capacity building, trade remedies, and dispute settlement. A departure from other FTAs, TPP's additional focus is on cross-cutting "horizontal issues" such as regulatory coherence, competitiveness and business facilitation, development and Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). When concluded, TPP will represent nearly 40% of the global economy and one-third of world trade.

    Even though, no official positions have been released by the TPP countries in public domain even after 19 rounds of negotiations, whatever information is available through leaked texts has led to several analysts expressing concerns on the slow progress made in negotiations concerning key areas such as Intellectual Property regime, electronic goods, and textile market access. This they say is due to the American preoccupation of ensuring export opportunities for the US while protecting its domestic industries at the same time.

    Others like Sanchita Basu Das, who is the lead researcher (economic affairs) at the ASEAN Studies Centre, in Singapore's Institute of South-east Asian Studies (ISEAS) contended, “TPP may divide ASEAN since not all members are participating in TPP. This may undermine ASEAN’s centrality.”


    According to Das, there are two other concerns as well. Firstly TPP doesn't include China and India, two of the biggest economies of the region. Secondly, “TPP is being promoted as a 'Gold-standard FTA' and is expected to develop a level playing field for businesses in the Asia-Pacific by focussing on liberalising ‘behind the border’ measures for cross-border trade and investment, and strengthening regulatory reforms. However, the TPP countries are at different levels of economic development. An unprecedented range of WTO Plus issues covered under TPP will require significant reforms in the domestic industrial and economic policies of most members. These will make negotiations tough, especially for developing countries in need of fundamental economic reforms and for economies that comprise largely of state-owned enterprises.” His article, RCEP and TPP: Comparisons and Concerns, appeared in ISEAS' publication, Perspective, in January this year. 

    Concerns for Singapore

  • A strict Intellectual Property regime, which is reportedly stricter than the WTO TRIPS already in place, can affect the affordability of healthcare and internet services in Singapore.
  • A strong competition policy which requires competitive neutrality of State-owned enterprises, may affect the already suffering small and medium scale enterprises in Singapore.
  • In circumstances involving investor-state arbitration, foreign companies will be allowed to challenge Singapore government rulings in international tribunals.
  • Under TPP, the provisions for labour standards being discussed is to enforce the ILO core standards in all countries. That may prove decremental to labour intensive industries in Singapore in the short run.
  • Also, liberalising the agricultural sector [in reference to export subsidies] will be highly sensitive for a net agricultural importer like Singapore.
  • Note: These concerns are based on ISEAS' prescriptive, The TPP: Economic and strategic implications for the Asia-pacific, published on July 23, 2012.

    Newzzit had forwarded all the above concerns to the ministry of trade and industry (MTI) for their responses, which we didn't receive till press time. We will be carrying MTI's reply as and when we receive it. Earlier, after the 16th round of negotiations held in Singapore in March, the ministry had said this in a release, “TPP countries recognise that there remain a range of more challenging areas, such as intellectual property, environment, competition and labour, which will require further deliberation amongst TPP countries. In goods, services, investment and government procurement, negotiators continued efforts to develop an ambitious and comprehensive market access package that would create new opportunities and maximise the TPP’s potential as a regional trade agreement to benefit all TPP countries.”