Details about the secretive discussions on the Trans Pacific Partnership, the free trade deal between the US and a dozen other countries, are usually hard to come by, but thanks to Wikileaks we know that the deal hangs by a thread. Partnership members (the US, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Mexico, and almost a dozen countries in Asia) can’t settle severe disagreements on sensitive issues like rules on intellectual property, state-owned enterprises, agriculture, and much else. The TPP, for better or worse, has become the symbol of American economic engagement in the Pacific region. If it fails it would be seen as a significant setback for Washington’s relationship with Asia at a critical time.As Wikileaks revealed, aggressive US stances on intellectual property and other issues are irking the other potential participants. As Forbes reports, the memo released by Wikileaks reveals
just how far apart the US is from the other nations involved in the treaty, with 19 points of disagreement in the area of intellectual property alone. One of the documents speaks of “great pressure” being applied by the US.Australia in particular is standing firm, objecting to the US’ proposals for copyright protection, parallel importation proposals and criminalization of copyright infringement. It’s also opposed to a measure supported by all the other nations involved to limit the liability of ISPs for copyright infringement by their users. Japan, too – which only joined the talks in March – has vowed to protect its agricultural markets, which the US wishes to see opened up.
These issues are also likely to erupt into bigger domestic controversies here at home. The Obama administration’s positions on a number of issues are far more corporatist than all its populist rhetoric would lead people to suppose. The failure to tie up the TPP deal at the last meeting in Singapore means discussions will have to continue into next year, with no sign that participants will be able to agree on contentious issues. Time is not on the administration’s side here.That’s bad news for the “pivot” to Asia. As Tom Donilon said at a speech in New York in March, the TPP is the “centerpiece of our economic rebalancing” to Asia. A TPP failure would throw into doubt Washington’s commitment to Asia at a time of rising tension.