TPP Gets Passing Grade From International Trade Expert
When the United States and 11 other nations recently agreed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, they set in motion history’s largest free trade agreement. A University of Kansas professor of law and international trade law expert has authored a comprehensive, objective look at the TPP, giving it a passing grade while detailing what it got right, where it could improve and why it’s important to millions of people around the world.
Raj Bhala, a professor at the KU School of Law, has written TPP Objectively: Law, Economics, and National Security of History’s Largest, Longest Free Trade Agreement. The book is the first comprehensive, objective analysis of the 6,000-page agreement, the largest in human history. It will be available in September as a hardcover and ebook.
“The book tries to look past the pro- and anti-TPP sides who are so often just talking past each other and screaming about things,” Bhala said. “The political debates tend to oversell the TPP as an economic engine or a catastrophe. The truth is it’s neither. Others miss that it’s about national security. Free trade agreements are not solely economic animals.”
Bhala, who has worked in 11 of the 12 TPP nations, breaks down the economic and national security aspects of the agreement and assigns it a B grade. In terms of security, he assigns the TPP an A, noting the importance it plays in securing agreements with 11 other nations. Many of those countries are longtime allies of the U.S., and others, notably, have agreed to a trade agreement on western capitalistic terms favored by the U.S. and not China, which is not part of the agreement. He also points out the national security significance of Vietnam’s membership, noting the entry of a 100 million person market and former bitter enemy of the United States.
Bhala gives the economic aspect of the TPP a C grade. The agreement doesn’t free up trade as much as most people assume, he said, pointing out that about 15 percent of all goods and services produced in the agreement’s member nations are not freed up. That is despite the fact that the agreement covers nearly 40 percent of the world’s gross domestic product. Perhaps most importantly, Bhala’s book argues the TPP did not go far enough in addressing women’s rights, LGBTQ rights and those of religious minorities in terms of trade.
“The book is the first to argue we need to advance, more resolutely, the rights of women, the LGBTQ community and religious minorities,” Bhala said. “The TPP doesn’t cover much for women’s rights and does nothing for LGBTQ and religious minorities. It’s time to advance human dignity across the board.”
He argues that human rights treaties have attempted to address such topics but, while well intentioned, are not as effective. Economic agreements among the world’s largest economic powers would get more attention and effect more change, Bhala added.
“The TPP is a public issue, it is not an arcane topic,” Bhala said. “It involves a treaty that covers things people eat every day, things they consume every day, intellectual property they depend on every day, labor and environmental issues, and raises women’s rights and minority rights issues. In a 6,000-page agreement there are topics that cover the lives of every American and every citizen in the other 11 member nations.”
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