Secretary Kerry Participates in the TPP Meeting with Nations’ Leaders/Flickr

Free Trade Stops Wars

Every so often, us political writers receive an email from Medium with trending tags, popular stories, and writing prompts. A prompt that caught my eye recently was the following: “What’s the one issue we aren’t paying enough attention this election cycle?” I immediately thought of the stakes surrounding the Supreme Court, but already wrote a piece on that. Instead, I decided to write about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Enjoy!

Although it pains me to admit it, the only candidate in the 2016 election with a sensible view on the TPP is Gary Johnson. Trump’s opposition to the deal is well documented, as was Sanders’. Jill Stein is also against the deal. Most shocking, however, is the opposition voiced by Hillary Clinton, who praised the deal as Secretary of State and in the early stages of the election. Most of the political world seemed to think that this opposition to the deal was simply in response to the populist tone that is currently shaping American and European elections, especially with her choice of Tim Kaine as running mate, a (formerly) strong supporter of the deal. However, increasingly forceful rhetoric from the Clinton camp, including the following tweet by campaign chairman John Podesta, make that seem unlikely.

In this election more than ever, it is important for Democrats to stand united against the threat of a Trump presidency. But, it is also important for Democrats, and Republicans for that matter, who support the TPP to voice that support, even if it means crossing their party’s nominee.

Admittedly, there are legitimate points to be made against the TPP, although ultimately I believe that the good does outweigh those, and quite significantly at that. Enforceable positions on everything from human rights to environmental protection make the TPP a step-up from past deals like NAFTA. The U.S. Trade Representative even offers a FAQ on the deal (on Medium no less!), although most people tend not to be convinced by someone whose job quite literally is to ensure the passage of the deal. Instead, we must look at the text.

Human Rights

Article 19.3 of the TPP reads as follows:

1. Each Party shall adopt and maintain in its statutes and regulations, and practices thereunder, the following rights as stated in the ILO Declaration:
(a) freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining;
(b) the elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labour;
(c) the effective abolition of child labour and, for the purposes of this Agreement, a prohibition on the worst forms of child labour; and
(d) the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.
2. Each Party shall adopt and maintain statutes and regulations, and practices thereunder, governing acceptable conditions of work with respect to minimum wages, hours of work, and occupational safety and health.

In addition to this main article, the rest of Chapter 19 lays out more specific rules, including bilateral deals—on top of the main provisions that apply to all countries—with Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei, countries that are not known for their human rights enforcement. These bilateral deals include provisions for a variety of actions, including a legal framework for unions, anti-trafficking measures, and protections against child labor.


In Chapter 20, countries are directed to “adopt, maintain and implement laws, ” covering a wide variety of environmental issues including safeguarding the Ozone Layer (Article 20.5), protecting oceans from ship pollution (Article 20.6), and protecting and encouraging biodiversity (Article 20.13). A sample of these directions are:

Article 20.5: Protection of the Ozone Layer
1. The Parties recognise that emissions of certain substances can significantly deplete and otherwise modify the ozone layer in a manner that is likely to result in adverse effects on human health and the environment. Accordingly, each Party shall take measures to control the production and consumption of, and trade in, such substances.
2. The Parties also recognise the importance of public participation and consultation, in accordance with their respective law or policy, in the development and implementation of measures concerning the protection of the ozone layer. Each Party shall make publicly available appropriate information about its programmes and activities, including cooperative programmes, that are related to ozone layer protection.
3. Consistent with Article 20.12 (Cooperation Frameworks), the Parties shall cooperate to address matters of mutual interest related to ozone-depleting substances. Cooperation may include, but is not limited to exchanging information and experiences in areas related to:
(a) environmentally friendly alternatives to ozone-depleting substances;
(b) refrigerant management practices, policies and programmes;
(c) methodologies for stratospheric ozone measurements; and
(d) combating illegal trade in ozone-depleting substances.


It is easy to throw out vague quotes from a deal that is over 5,000 pages long. Yes, the language supports action, but at the end of the day, without an effective enforcement mechanism, they are just words on a page. Luckily, Chapter 28 solves that problem!

Chapter 28, titled Dispute Settlement, provides provisions for arbitration, ADR, and the calling of panels to solve issues regarding a country’s failure to follow provisions in any of the previous chapters, which include the labor and environmental rules laid out previously. Most importantly, the final report that is produced at the end of the dispute detailing actions taken, punishments, etc. will be made available to the public:

Article 28.18: Final Report
1. The panel shall present a final report to the disputing Parties, including any separate opinions on matters not unanimously agreed, no later than 30 days after presentation of the initial report, unless the disputing Parties agree otherwise. After taking any steps to protect confidential information, and no later than 15 days after the presentation of the final report, the disputing Parties shall release the final report to the public.
2. No panel shall, either in its initial report or its final report, disclose which panellists are associated with majority or minority opinions.

Now, it is easy to dismiss the TPP, in no small part because both the Democratic and Republican nominee agree on it. Because of this, many treat the issue as a done deal. Although, there is still the opportunity for Obama to get the deal passed in a lame-duck session of Congress, when, hopefully, the members will feel more free to vote their conscience.

Don’t mistake my support of the TPP for complete support. The deal is not perfect, although striving for perfection when negotiating a 5,000 page deal with eleven other countries is a bit of a nonstarter. I understand that it is far easier to be 100% for or against something, rather than take a nuanced look and actually read the deal. However, that is exactly what must be done, unless of course you prefer to live in a black and white world that bears little resemblance to reality.

It is my hope that there will be actual dialogue around this deal, although that is a fairly far-flung hope in this election season. I think everyone could benefit from discussing a deal that both create jobs and grow the economy, rather than having yet another “debate” between CNN talking heads on climate change, still pretending that that there are two sides to that discussion (there’s not). The deal should also inspire liberals, if indeed they are serious about benefitting poorer countries. Then, of course, there is also the Toby Ziegler argument:

We probably won’t get the high minded discussion about the TPP that we should, but, provided it passes, I am confident that we will be able to look back and wonder why we weren’t more enthusiastic about it in the beginning. After all, free trade stops wars. And who could be against that?

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