TPP: What Exactly Is the Trans-Pacific Partnership?

A lot of people seem to hate it, but what exactly is it?

ByABC News
July 27, 2016, 3:12 PM

— -- Spanning 30 chapters, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a behemoth of a government document, but its length and complexity are matched only by the impact it could have on the global economy -- and the controversy it has created.

Championed by President Obama, it was one of the few White House initiatives that received bipartisan support.

Donald Trump staunchly opposes it and denounced the trade agreement at last week's Republican National Convention.

Hillary Clinton said in October that she opposed what she has “learned about it” -- after she once said it “sets the gold standard in trade agreements."

Clinton’s somewhat ambiguous position on the deal has been derided by her opponents, many of whom seized on comments made by her friend Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe who said that she would come around to support it if elected president.

The Clinton campaign quickly sought to downplay the governor’s remarks.

But with the trade deal continuing to play a key role in the election, many people are asking: what exactly is the TTP?

In short

At its most basic, the TPP is a proposed trade agreement aimed at promoting investment and trade links between 12 countries on both sides of the Pacific Ocean.

The TPP club includes heavy hitters like the United States, Mexico, Japan and Australia, as well as Vietnam, Brunei and Peru. Notably absent from the group: China.

While the agreement is wide-ranging, it would lower or eliminate many tariffs on trade, introduce new labor standards, encourage environmental responsibility, among other objectives.

An agreement on the deal was reached in early October, after more than five years of talks. It is now awaiting congressional approval.

How is TPP different from other trade deals?

TPP joins an alphabet soup of acronyms representing various trade deals.

Many people confuse it with the “TPA," which is short for Trade Promotion Authority. TPA is the authority granted by Congress to allow U.S. presidents to negotiate trade agreements. Congressional members can vote up or down on these deals but cannot offer amendments.

TPP should also not be confused with “TTIP” -- the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership -- which is involves a different ocean, the Atlantic. That agreement, which is currently being negotiated, is between the U.S. and the European Union and has similar trade objectives to the TPA.

What are the benefits of TPP?

The lower tariffs (taxes on goods that are traded internationally) could have a host of economic benefits for both consumers and producers, experts say.

“The benefit is going to a combination of access to a wider variety of better quality goods and services, it’s also going to be providing employment opportunities -- it’s going to create more export-orientated businesses, more jobs,” Joshua Meltzer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told ABC News.

In other words, Meltzer says, consumers will find cheaper-priced goods. It also means that new business opportunities could be created by opening markets in Asia to American-made goods, which in turn, he says, would create jobs.

Additionally, Meltzer says, “The data clearly shows that these export-orientated businesses pay high wages.”

But don’t expect things to change dramatically, he says. The effects could be somewhat muted, since the U.S. is already very open to trade.

The trade agreement also includes provisions that could advance American values abroad - especially as it pertains to labor and environmental rights.

In November, Obama called it "the highest standard and most progressive trade deal ever concluded.”

“It includes strong protections for workers, prohibitions against child labor and forced labor,” he noted. “It has provisions to protect the environment, to help stop wildlife trafficking, to protect our oceans.”

Why do critics deride it?

Opposition to the TPP generally falls into two categories -- those who think that free trade agreements and globalization generally harm American workers, and those who think the agreement doesn’t go far enough.

Trump has been a fervent critic of the agreement, underscoring his opposition late last month at a rally in Ohio. “The Trans-Pacific Partnership is another disaster, done and pushed by special interests who want to rape our country. Just a continuing rape of our country," he said.

On the opposite end of the general ideological divide lies Sen. Bernie Sanders, who also believes the TPP is a threat to U.S. interests. He repeatedly spoke out against it during his presidential run.

“Let’s be clear: the TPP is much more than a 'free trade' agreement. It is part of a global race to the bottom to boost the profits of large corporations and Wall Street by outsourcing jobs; undercutting worker rights; dismantling labor, environmental, health, food safety and financial laws; and allowing corporations to challenge our laws in international tribunals rather than our own court system," according to a statement on the senator's website.

But for others, the deal doesn't go far enough.

For Derek Scissors, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, it's not worth the effort, given the expected gain.

“It’s a wet firecracker you ignite and nothing is going to happen," he told ABC News.

For Scissors, the agreement doesn't do enough to boost services industries, which make up the largest part of the U.S. economy.

“The number one thing from [the perspective of] the U.S. as a whole is to open up services and we didn't do that,” he lamented.

How does it affect America's relationship with China?

In many ways, the deal reflects Obama’s ambition to increase U.S. influence in Asia. It also serves as a check on China’s growing economic influence in the region.

“When more than 95 percent of our potential customers live outside our borders, we can’t let countries like China write the rules of the global economy,” Obama said in a statement in October. “We should write those rules, opening new markets to American products while setting high standards for protecting workers and preserving our environment.”