THE ECONOMIST: Weighing Anchor

10/27/2015

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| Source: The Economist

DONALD TRUMP, an American presidential candidate, denounced it as “a terrible deal”. Another, Hillary Clinton, does not think it meets “the high bar” that should be applied to trade pacts. Yet proponents of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which encompasses 12 countries in Asia and the Americas, including America and Japan, herald it as the biggest multilateral trade deal in 20 years, which will “define the rules of the road” for international commerce. Which is it?

TPP will apply to 40% of the world’s economy. For American exporters alone, 18,000 individual tariffs will be reduced to zero. Much the same will be true for firms in the other 11 members. Even agricultural barriers, usually among the most heavily defended, will start to come down. Foreigners will gain a toehold in Canada’s dairy sector and a bigger share of Japan’s beef market, for example. Some of these reductions will be phased in lamentably slowly, however: American tariffs on Japanese lorries will last another 30 years.

Tariffs in the region were not that high to begin with, though. More important is TPP’s effort to free trade in services. These are not usually subject to the same impediments as, say, agricultural or automotive imports; instead they get tangled up in beyond-the-border rules, such as customs, visas and licensing. TPP promises greater access to markets for more service providers, which over time should provide a boost to productivity.

In spite of scaremongering on the left, the deal does not obviously exalt the interests of big business over those of lowly consumers. For instance, under pressure from Australia, Chile and Peru, America shelved its demand that certain drugs be protected from generic competition for at least 12 years, settling for five instead. In the same vein, TPP’s dispute-settlement mechanism explicitly bars tobacco firms from claiming compensation for public-health rules that harm their business.

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