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What we can do to change TPP

Since WikiLeaks released documents revealing secret trade negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership between the US, East Asia, and other Pacific Rim nations in 2013, response from stakeholders and policy organizations has escalated. Now, congress is ready to grant President Obama Trade Promotion Authority (also called fast track authority) to give the White House greater negotiation power to finalize a deal.

TPP has gained notoriety as a much lamented agreement that involves revitalizing and revolutionizing trade agreements between signatories covering many industries, and will especially affect service and labor. As part of his pivot towards Asia, the deal comprises 40% of the global economy and is the Obama administration's flagship trade deal, arguably the most important globalization effort since NAFTA.

Conducting a negotiation in secret is hardly the way to get stakeholders, much less the general public, on board with your agenda. Moreover, globalization efforts rarely generate public support, and this particular endeavor in a post-WikiLeaks world has drawn widespread skepticism.




Relying on leaked information, organizations and companies across the US have voiced their concerns about various aspects of the proposal, from environmental protection, to labor rights, to intellectual property. Progressive groups have largely lambasted the administration for being not only a willing partner but the chief advocate in signing the deal. Politicians on both sides of the aisle initially balked at the idea of supporting such a large trade agreement that they claim threatens US jobs and industries. The unified stance represented a welcome break from the seemingly constant state of impasse on the hill.

However, in recent weeks they have changed strategy and opted to contribute to the negotiation to avoid risk of being excluded from the planning completely.
Unfortunately regardless of the terms of any aspect of the agreement, whether within congress, between congress and the White House, or between the President and other signatories, the public is likely to reject the partnership as a whole.



Once the public sees the final details of the agreement, they may be more likely to align with some of its goals, but in the end it's unlikely that it will ever see public support. The critical reason is that the public and key stakeholders have been alienated throughout the process.

When national leaders, including those from the private sector, refuse to include a wider margin of their constituents into agreements with such widespread implications, it is not possible to generate support. It stands to reason that when the public, as consumers of the public good, have no say in how that good is maintained they won't be satisfied with the results. Only when all stakeholders feel they have their voice in the process that they will have a sense of ownership over its goals and outcomes.


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