Don't Hate the Trans-Pacific Partnership Because It's Imperfect

Yes, the TPP contains some protectionist policies. Daniel Ikenson thinks it's still worth supporting.


"[The Trans-Pacific Partnership] is a mixed bag," says Daniel Ikenson, director of the Cato Institute's Herbert A. Stiefel Center for Trade Policy Studies. Ikenson's latest analysis, Should Free Traders Support the Trans-Pacific Partnership? An Assessment of America's Largest Preferential Trade Agreement, offers an in-depth look at the most important trade agreement in decades.

"Our conclusion is that it's got some baked-in protectionism. There's a lot of liberalization. On par, it's net liberalizing. It will expand our economic freedoms. And my colleagues and I, my co-authors and I, support it."

Daniel Ikenson

Not since the election year of 1992 has an international trade agreement been such a hot-button issue. Twenty-four years ago, the prospect of ratifying of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) during a national recession dominated the headlines. NAFTA galvanized the independent candidacy of the charismatic Texas billionaire Ross Perot, and put his protectionist platform squarely into the public consciousness.

On Election Day, Perot's candidacy failed. But the same anxieties that formed around his "giant sucking sound" siphoning away manufacturing jobs to Mexico, has lived on. Shorn of the characteristic Texas twang with which they were delivered, the trade-phobic arguments Perot offered the American public are being echoed by Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, stirring up popular opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

So, what to make of the TPP? With thirty chapters and thirteen Pacific rim nations signed on, the scope of the agreement is wide, stretching from tariffs to labor policy to state-owned enterprises to environmental regulations. Ikenson's report details and grades every chapter of the agreement, turning dry legalese into legible language with clear recommendations.

In the end, Ikenson supports the TPP and advocates for its ratification. Its main selling point is that it opens up international markets and sets many tariffs to zero. Hs overall positive take comes with reservations about the treatment of intellectual property and the political compromises behind "managed trade".

Despite these issues, Ikenson's recommendation of the TPP comes with a dose of political realism. It's a familiar caveat in the world of modern trade agreements: Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Produced, edited, and hosted by Todd Krainin. Cameras by Joshua Swain and Austin Bragg.

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  1. Don’t Hate the Trans-…

    Progtards would just stop reading there and nod in complete agreement with the article.

    1. But there’s also trans fat and Transylvania.

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  2. I just looked at the grab-bag of countries that signed on. OK, Japan is big. And Canada. But… Chile? Brunei?! I thought this was some earth-shattering US-China thing; silly me.

    the scope of the agreement is wide, stretching from tariffs to labor policy to state-owned enterprises to environmental regulations

    LOL. The more they shoehorn into in, the less anyone will pay attention.

    It should be one sentence fragment. “No tariffs.”

    1. Basically everyone but china. Still a better situation than we have now.

      1. Still better than no trade at all…

      2. Not sure on what basis you are claiming its better than status quo. And point to point comparisons on what it improves?

  3. Ok, I’ll just hate it because it encourages (demands) that member countries enact hideously draconian IP laws.

    1. And I can only guess what is meant by “environmental regulations” – are they piling more on, or loosening them?!

      1. You get three guesses which – the first two don’t count.

      2. Depends if you’re country’s name rhymes with vagina. They get special exemptions, whereas Canada will continue it’s crusade to eliminate the “1.6% of worldwide greenhouse gas” to nill, taking with it many jobs to be the vanguard.

    2. It’s always possible Cato has a thumb on the scale in their scoring or weighting, but if you even take a single positive of the TPP it’s their professional opinion that it outweighs the IP laws, which they scored a 4 for trade liberalization (where 5 means no effect and 0/1 ostensibly means libertarian cataclysm).

      So mix that slight negative (according to them) with just one good point like the 8 the agreement received in “Cross Border Trade in Services”.

      Your mileage may vary naturally but I think the whole point of the Cato analysis was that it’s unfair to pick out one part of a million-part agreement and use it to condemn everything when the net effect is likely increasing free trade.

      1. Certainly – but you can condemn it because its needlessly complicated and is only ‘liberalizing’ trade in light of past protectionist policies.

        The actual TPP should be a single sheet of paper with nothing written on it.

        1. Or one word…reciprocity.

  4. You should hate the Trans-Pacific Partnership not because it’s imperfect, but BECAUSE IT IS SUPPORTED BY JEWS WHO AIM TO UNDERMINE THE VOLK. If the international Jewish financiers should succeed in plunging nations into this ruinous agreement, then the result will not be the bolshevization of the earth and this the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race!

    I am officially announcing my candidacy to serve as your Fuhrer.

    1. Stop Donald. Just stop. No longer funny. People are getting scared. Kids have stopped believing in Santa.

      And why did you choose as your running mate Slag Hale?

      1. I thought that his running mate was Hank N. Kreutz? No? Maybe Sondra B. Handlung? Dammit, my memory is going to SHITES! I think actually his running mate is Morgan D. Gonzwelt…

        I know German for brassier is “Schtop ’em von Floppen”, and Vaseline is “VienerSchleider”, at least I am sure of that much…

        Hitler, bail us out here… WHO ist yer running mate!??!

        1. For those whose German knowledge is lacking or rusty? I have to be pedantic here, yes? “Sondra B. Handlung” etc. are stolen from various writers over the years here; “Sondra B. Handlung” ~= “Sonderbehandlung (abbr. S.B.) is a German noun meaning special treatment in English ” ? To me, the world’s most breath-takingly evil euphemism? In this case, for exterminating innocent people. It pales aside “collateral damage” for bombing some innocents when going / gunning for the guilty? More soon, on the others?

          1. Swastica in German = hooked cross = Hakenkreuz; need I say more?

          2. “Morgan D. Gonzwelt” plays on the former German national anthem? / songs and (see ) ? “Und morgen die ganze Welt” = “And tomorrow the whole World.”

  5. For what very little it’s worth, I trust Cato a lot more than I trust myself on complex shit like this. I have a mildly educated opinion that free trade is good, but I’m perfectly okay with outsourcing the job of reading 6000 pages to decide how I feel about the agreement’s effect on international trade dispute adjudication to folks a lot more literate in legalese.

    Now, should it be 6000 pages? Probably not. But the alternative in the real world isn’t a one-page “no barriers” statement, it’s just 6000 separate 1-page agreements.

    1. Is there a previous free-trade agreement that Cato didn’t feel was worth it? IOW, if they’re going to like any free trade agreement, regardless of the specifics, their thumbs up for the TPP really doesn’t tell us much.

      What makes me leery of this agreement is the secretive nature of parts of the text. Weren’t Congresscritters having to go into a SCIF in order to read the damned thing? And they couldn’t take notes, or tell non-cleared people what they’d read? If that’s the case, then didn’t we just go through something like this with Obamacare?

      I’d just as soon not pass another “we need to pass it to figure out what’s in it” bill.

    2. I’m glad that Cato has finally looked at the details and that Reason has linked to it. I’ll make my own judgment about it but this is finally the first TPP article on Reason that is worth more than use of ‘free trade’ as a semi-religious meme.

    3. Well, I’d like to vote for Johnson but the alternative in the real world isn’t the Libertarian Party, its either Democrat or Republican.

    4. I unfortunately am in line with this position. I would much rather really know what’s it all about, but certainly don’t have time to read 6K pages — jeesh I didn’t even have enough time to type three zeros after the 6 there.

      Really though, I do trust the Cato Institute, and would likely go along with what they are saying is good there, I would also like to read some synopsis’ of the agreement that pro and con factions say is good and bad about it, and make my own weighted scale.

      I have had to defend Gary Johnson’s support of the agreement against legitimate libertarians, and really could not defend him on the merits because I don’t know the intricate details. It makes me feel better to know that Cato lukewarmly supports it.

  6. I’m unhappy with this simply because it is an Obo product and that man has yet to deliver ANYTHING that did what it claimed it was to do and didn’t have fine-print making it an absolute disaster.
    I am 100% behind free trade and I have little doubt that Obo made sure this won’t give us that.

    1. There is a very small outside chance he is on the level here. He is looking towards his legacy now, and if he can pass one major bill that works and is still in place decades from now, he will be able to point to that as an accomplishment.

      Nah, too good to be true. Nvrmnd.

  7. I went through the report with CTRL-F and couldn’t find the word “Senate.”

    Now, I thought treaties required Senate approval? Is this TPP thing going to be implemented without Senate approval?

    Also, check out this NSFW analysis of the TP – I mean TPP.

    1. There’d be no mention of Senate in the TPP because the TPP is a multi-jurisdictional document between government’s with vastly different organizations.

      Once the TPP is ‘approved’ then it would go through each individual country’s ratification process. But Chile DGAF that a treaty in the US has to be approved by the US Senate.

    2. The Senate is not mention since they call this an agreement not a treaty.

      So they can pass it with a majority vote in both the Senate and House not a 2/3 vote in the Senate

      Why this is allowed is not clear to me, but the Supreme Court refuses any challenges since they leave it up to Congress and if Congress as a whole does not object the SC goes along with it

  8. “Don’t Hate the Trans-Pacific Partnership Because It’s Imperfect”

    This sort of straw-manning rubs me the wrong way.

    Nothing in politics is perfect.

    The Constitution isn’t perfect.

    Also, I like how opposition = “hate.” Classic prog tactic, if you’ll pardon my saying so.

  9. I’s searching for anything related to trade at Johnson’s twitter page and found nothing.

    He’ll get enough votes to hurt at least one candidate, and he’ll be intensely despised by half of the electorate. His political will come to an end by Christmas.

    So why not just do the right thing? Why run as a squishy moderate with no plans to reduce the size of government?

    1. May as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb, as the New Zealander said.

  10. Yes, the TPP contains some protectionist policies. Daniel Ikenson thinks it’s still worth supporting

    Even if you found rationalizations for ALL the protectionist policies…. the secret process by which the TPP came into being would still be objectionable on its own.

    Its sort of like Obama’s immigration exec-orders. I don’t care what you think about Immigration or what should/shouldn’t be done about it; regardless of your opinion on the policy itself, the process by which Obama bypassed congress and attempted to basically ‘change existing law’ in opposition to every public opinion on the matter (*and opinions which many may still think are wrong)… should be opposed. And opposing that means un-doing what the process wrought – no matter how much you might say its “not as bad as it could be”.

    it seems to me that apologists for the trade deal are willing to look the other way on the process in order to get “anything” pushed through.

    maybe that “anything” includes favors for “the right people”. Maybe those right-people generously fund the right Think Tanks.

    I don’t think that excuses what is fundamentally bad-process. In fact, it may be worse. It simply incentivizes more of the same.

  11. Don’t Hate the Trans-Pacific Partnership Because It’s Imperfect

    Instead, hate it because it’s a giant omnibus package full of shit pushed through under less than transparent means.

    1. /\ /\ /\ This.

      The thousands of pages pretty much guarantees a wide range of cronyism, corruption, and channeling of profit to the ‘right’ people.

      As with most of these excessively complex bills/treaties/agreements, the powers that be will utilize what profits them and ignore what doesn’t. All the bad in the agreement will be in force and all the good will get tied up in legal actions for the next decade. e.g. Obamacare.

  12. Don’t Hate the TPP Because It’s Imperfect:

    I don’t hate it because its imperfect. I hate it because its (and all trade ‘agreements’) are theft and a violation of Human rights.

    Unilateral free trade. Who gives a feth what out ‘trading partners’ are doing. China wants to dump underpriced aluminum on the US? Let them. Who does that hurt? Domestic aluminum producers. Who does it help? EVERYONE ELSE. All trade agreements do is protect specific politically favored domestic producers – a limited group – at the expense of domestic consumers – everyone in the country.

    You keep saying its better than what we have – but none of these agreements should exist in the first place. You’re justifying continuing government intervention as a way to correct the problems of past government intervention.

    1. The wrinkle is that it is much easier for an industry to close up shop than to start up again. China dumps, kills domestic production, then jacks up the price. Americans don’t benefit from the last part of that scenario.

      But it seems like nobody really wants to address why it is so hard to start up an industry in this country. Yes, there are capital costs involved. But our forebears built most of these fucking industries from the ground up in the first place. Coal, oil, steel, aluminum, trains, cars, tanks, planes; you name it, if it’s heavy industry, America lead the way. Not anymore. Yet nobody really wants to confront the sacred cows of “labor rights”, “environmental protection”, “safety regulation”, “social welfare”, etc.

      In the end, the intentionally imposed lack of competitiveness in our industries isn’t going to go away with free trade, semi-free trade, or strong protectionism. For one thing, people aren’t just going to magically have more money in their pockets even if China can’t “dump” goods on us because of high tariffs. Although they may have more money in their pockets if they have access to cheaper markets.

      Free trade is a good thing. But its weight as a good thing is arguably less than that of domestic economic freedom. We should be asking why it is that we want to make our own markets more expensive a little bit more loudly than why it is we want to make foreign markets more expensive.

  13. Lie back and think of the multi-national conglomerate that cuts our paychecks and stands to benefit heavily from advantageous rules regarding cross-border movement of manufactured goods, chemicals, petroleum and equities.

  14. All I need to know about it is that Obumblefuck created this fully confident that he knows better than anyone else. That fact alone guarantees that it is a big steaming pile.

    1. Retarded neoconfederate “libertarian”…

  15. I hate the TPP because it gives over sovereignty of the USA and other signatory countries to the secret ISDS tribunal. This allows corporations to sue if our laws on health, clean water, clean air, etc. interfere with their profits.

    “The Philip Morris v. Uruguay case (Spanish: Caso Philip Morris contra Uruguay) started on 19 February 2010, when the multinational tobacco company Philip Morris International filed a complaint against Uruguay.[1] The company complains that Uruguay’s anti-smoking legislation devalues its cigarette trademarks and investments in the country and is suing Uruguay for compensation under the bilateral investment treaty between Switzerland and Uruguay.”
    /wiki/Investor-state_dispute_settlement #Perspectives_for_ISDS

    I want SCOTUS to be our supreme adjudicator for laws in the USA.

  16. While the hippies are not quite correct in their protests, neither is anything in this article.

    If we want a free trade agreement with a country then that can be written on a single sheet of paper. We simply write like “We no charge tax if you no charge tax. Otherwise, we charge you tax.” There is no need to add any additional regulations to it.

  17. I honestly can’t believe Reason supports the TPP. Since when was a secretive trade agreement thrown together by a bunch of liberals and socialists ever libertarian?

  18. Damn toilet paper privelege. #venezualavalues

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  20. Obama wants it, thus, it is not good.

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