The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) is an ever-growing regional trade agreement designed to constantly expand membership and serve as a platform for regional economic integration around the Pacific. It takes on both explicit and implicit barriers to trade and with it negotiators are attempting to establish a new model for trade agreements that deal primarily in technical barriers to trade (TBT). The nine partner nations in the TPP – New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, Viet Nam, Brunei, Chile, Peru and the United States – are negotiating texts on sectors such as services, intellectual property, goods market access, investment and government procurement. Advancements in these sectors are expected to go beyond like-sectors of current accords but the true groundbreaking measures are being taken “cross cutting” issues. These issues of small and medium size enterprise promotion, transparency, competitiveness, labour, development, environment, supply chain management and regulatory coherence cross over sectors of trade to ease underlying barriers of multilateral commerce and have never before been included in a regional trade agreement (RTA).
While the nine TPP partners flaunt negotiations as “high quality” and “21st Century,” the road to reaching an accord on such matters is fraught with challenges. The nations have to determine how they can string together a trade scheme amidst the 25 plus bilateral and regional agreements already standing between members. They also have to find common ground on highly sensitive societal issues that cause civil society actors to call sovereignty into question and risk domestic political backlash. Although negotiations are approaching their eighth round come September 2011 and draft texts are on the table, none of the drafts have been released for public review. An examination of the TPP based upon the current knowledge of the intellectual property (IP) and regulatory coherence (RC) chapters reveals the US has a strategic geo-economic interest in instituting its prerogatives into the TPP. Because of the size and inclusive nature of the TPP, the standards it sets will carry major implications for the world trading system and global society.