5 things to know about the Trans-Pacific Partnership

Opposition to the deal relates to jobs and trade deficits, but also to copyright and digital rights

Pacific Ocean

The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement is a far-reaching trade deal among nations around the Pacific rim.

Credit: Peter Sayer

The U.S. presidential campaign has shined a spotlight on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed trade deal that's simmered on the back burner for years.

Both major-party presidential candidates oppose the deal, negotiated in secret among 12 Pacific Region countries, including the U.S., Japan, Australia, Canada, and Singapore. China and Russia are notably absent from the negotiations.

While negotiators approved the final language in October, the U.S. has not yet ratified the deal.

Here are five important things to know about TPP:

What's in the TPP?

The goal of the trade deal, with negotiations that began in 2008, is to lower trade barriers, including tariffs, between the countries. The deal also allows companies to ask for legal arbitration against countries they believe to be discriminating against their products.

The deal also includes worker rights, environmental, and open internet provisions. But critics worry that it will lead to a loss of U.S. jobs, and many digital rights groups have protested the deal's copyright and intellectual property enforcement provisions.

While the deal was negotiated in secret for years, the text is now available as lawmakers in the U.S. and other countries debate whether to ratify the TPP.

Support and opposition don't follow traditional political lines

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has made opposition to free trade deals like the TPP a centerpiece of his campaign. Democrat Hillary Clinton has reversed the support she voiced while serving as secretary of state in President Barack Obama's administration.

Meanwhile, Democrat Obama has continued to push hard for passage, and many Republicans in Congress support the TPP.

Much of the opposition isn't directly related to tech issues

Trump, as well as many liberals, oppose the deal because of concerns that it will make it easier for U.S. companies move jobs overseas, that it will drive down U.S. wages because of competition from foreign workers, and that it will increase the country's trade deficit.

Critics worry that the deal will lead to a flood of foreign products into the U.S. without corresponding exports. Many opponents are also concerned that U.S. jobs will flow to TPP countries like Vietnam and Mexico, where worker wages are much lower.

But many tech trade groups and companies support the deal

Many tech companies and trade groups see the deal as a way to more easily sell their products overseas. About 95 percent of the world's population lives outside the U.S., and tech companies see the Asia-Pacific Region as a growth market for them.

Among the tech trade groups supporting the TPP are the BSA, with members including Apple, Dell, IBM, Microsoft, and Salesforce; the Software and Information Industry Association, with members including Google, Facebook, Adobe Systems, and Intuit; and the Consumer Technology Association, members including Best Buy, FitBit, Newegg, Amazon.com, and Samsung Electronics.

TPP is a "leap forward" in trade agreements, Victoria Espinel, president and CEO of BSA, said earlier this year. The deal will drive growth in the IT industry "by establishing the first-ever strong and enforceable" trade rules for data flows across borders in a multilateral agreement, she said.

Tech-related opposition revolves around copyright enforcement

Digital rights groups, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Fight for the Future, have protested the deal, largely because it would expand copyright enforcement provisions across the Asia-Pacific region.

The deal would "entrench" controversial pieces of U.S. copyright law, including parts of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and it would restrict Congress’ ability to reform copyright law, the EFF says. The deal would expand the lengthy of copyright terms in many countries from 50 years beyond the death of the author/creator to 70 years, and it would requiring signatory countries to mirror provisions in the DMCA that ban the circumvention of digital locks, or DRM.

Many critics have also protested the deal’s secret negotiations, saying important policy-changing trade deals should be discussed in the open.

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