As President Obama travels to Asia, one item sure to be on his agenda is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade agreement currently being negotiated between the United States and 11 other countries.
Since the U.S. joined the negotiations in 2008, about the only thing the countries involved seem to have accomplished is to become ever more adept at announcing how much progress they are making, as the following statements demonstrate:
- 2008: “In their discussions, the Ministers emphasized the importance of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement as a vehicle for Trans-Pacific-wide economic integration. This regional agreement sets a high standard that will enhance the competitiveness of the countries that are part of it and help facilitate trade and promote investment between them, increasing their economic growth and development. The Trans-Pacific Partners welcomed the addition of the United States as a significant step forward in advancing this goal.”
- 2009: “In short, we expect the TPP agreement to serve as a model for the future of American trade. We recognize that today’s workers, businesses, and farmers have different concerns than they did a generation ago, and we intend to update our approach to trade in keeping with a changing world. In these negotiations, we will talk about new technologies, emerging business sectors, and the needs of small businesses alongside labor, environmental, and more traditional trade concerns in the context of a regional approach to trade. Already, [U.S. Trade Representative] staff have begun meeting with their counterparts from Trans-Pacific Partnership nations.”
- 2010: “The United States and the other Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) countries—Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam—concluded the fourth round of negotiations in Auckland, New Zealand today, continuing to make steady progress across the range of issues under discussion. Noting that President Obama and the other TPP Leaders instructed them to conclude the negotiations as swiftly as possible, the negotiators pressed ahead in the 24 negotiating groups.”
- 2011: “Negotiators are working to reach the broad outlines of an agreement by the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders Ministerial meeting in Honolulu in November.”
- 2012: “We are determined to build on the momentum we have achieved to close as many of these chapters as possible this year, recognizing that the agreement is a single undertaking and must result in a balanced package that all TPP countries can embrace.”
- 2013: “We, the Ministers and Heads of Delegation for Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam, have just completed a four-day Ministerial meeting in Singapore where we have made substantial progress toward completing the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.”
- 2014: “We, the Ministers and Heads of Delegation for Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, United States, and Vietnam, have just completed a four-day Ministerial meeting in Singapore where we made further strides toward a final agreement.”
So far, it appears that the TPP has resulted in lots of talk but too little action. The goal for President Obama should be to avoid a trip that generates similar meaningless pronouncements but instead results in a real breakthrough toward a beneficial TPP agreement.