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Is the US Rushing into the TPP?

A tinderbox of controversy from its inception, negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership have only become more contentious, like an avalanching snowball that gathers size at it nears its final destination. U.S. businesses have taken to loudly voicing their concerns that the trade agreement is throttling towards its conclusion too hastily to guarantee its protection of their interests.

Tom Donahue, head of the US Chamber of Commerce, said, “We’ve worked [to back the TPP] harder than anybody. But we’re at the same time saying this is going to be a great deal when it gets done. Let’s just not rush it. Speed is important but not without content. We’re willing to slow it down a month, or two or three to get the content right. “

Donahue emphasized the historic importance and sweeping impact of the TPP. “A massive percentage of the world’s [future] explosion in growth and trade is going to happen in the Pacific Rim. We’re concerned that in the excitement to get that deal people may compromise a bit too much.”

As the conclusion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations draws closer to a conclusion, disputes over its wisdom have grown more heated. With billions of dollars at stake, representatives from every quarter of the fashion industry has been weighing in with impassioned positions.

Debate has been particularly tense especially now that, following the nineteenth round of negotiations, there is clear progress and a discernible end on the horizon. US Trade Representative Michael Froman recently reported: “There is a real sense of momentum. I think people really have a sense this is going to get done and it’s going to get done in this time frame that we have laid out to try get it done over the course of this year…It is an incredibly complex negotiation.”

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The nineteenth round just concluded in Brunei and includes the U.S., Vietnam, Singapore, Australia, Peru, Brunei, New Zealand, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, Canada and Japan.

And the opportunities, as well as risks, are unusually high. The eleven countries involved in the negotiations sent $15.1 billion worth of apparel and textile imports to the US last year.

At the center of Donahue’s concerns is that the final version of the TPP would lack adequate intellectual property rules, which might disadvantage American companies attempting to sell generic drugs overseas. Also, he expressed worries that the TPP would not sufficiently protect U.S. companies from the competitive advantages some state-owned foreign industries might wield.

“The US business community is concerned that the TPP as negotiated to date has yet to achieve the level of ambition pledged by the governments,” the groups wrote in the September 18 letter to chief negotiators. “We urge you to redouble your efforts toward the goal of a comprehensive, high-standard and commercially meaningful agreement that removes barriers to trade and investment, and addresses 21st century challenges in all sectors,” said Donahue.

Donahue is not alone in his concerns, joined by a growing chorus of like-minded parties. Last week, more than fifty top executives from the apparel and textile industry descended upon Washington to urge the Obama administration to produce a final TPP agreement that secures the competitiveness of their businesses in the global theater.

And more than sixty activists have set up camp outside Froman’s office to protest the TPP. Groups like Public Citizen and the Communication Worker’s for America angrily criticized the TPP’s possible impact on employment in the U.S. and complained of a lack of transparency regarding the negotiation process. Melinda St. Louis, international campaign director for Public Citizen, declaimed, “Regulating Wall Street is what we need. It’s time to flush the TPP. Protecting workers is what we need. It’s time to flush the TPP.”

Kenneth Peres, chief economist for the Communication Worker’s For America added to the pile of criticism. He said, “It’s going to erode our wages, just like other free trade pacts have.”

Some see the TPP as a watershed moment in the gradual opening of other markets across the participating members. Julia Hughes, president of the US Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel opined, “One of the goals of the TPP is to have it be a true 21st-century agreement and part of what that means is the ability of manufacturers in one TPP party to sell to all others with no new regulatory barriers, technical barriers [or tariffs].Part of the point of TPP is to create a new supply chain among the countries.”