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What's Next For The Trans-Pacific Trade Deal?


The United States and 11 other countries have reached an agreement to lower trade barriers throughout the Pacific Basin. It's called the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and it was just announced in Atlanta after lengthy negotiations that often seemed to be going nowhere. The agreement is a big win for President Obama, but he still faces a tough time getting it approved by Congress. For more, we turn now to NPR's Jim Zarroli. Good morning.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Tell us exactly what this agreement is meant to do and what it means for trade along the coasts of the Pacific and in the Pacific, the Pacific Rim.

ZARROLI: Yeah, it has the potential to be real milestone in trade. It involves the United States and some of its biggest and most important trading partners, Canada, Japan, Mexico. It also includes a lot of smaller economies, Malaysia, Singapore, Chile, Peru, Australia, New Zealand. One big, big exception is China which was not part of the talks. And basically, these countries that are a part of the agreement amount to 40 percent of the world’s economies. So the agreement - it lowers many but not all of tariffs and trade barriers. It comes up with a consistent set of rules that will apply to businesses that want to trade with each other. It sort of requires everyone to play by the same rules, and the goal, as the Obama administration has said, is to facilitate trade in the Pacific Rim.

MONTAGNE: And this agreement has, essentially, been in the works since 2008. Why so long to come up with an accord?

ZARROLI: You know, there were big disagreements among the countries, as you might expect, over, you know, for instance, New Zealand's access to dairy markets. You know, the United States and other countries disagreed about the length of copyrights for biologic drugs, disagreements about auto production. You know, that’s kind of in the nature of these things. Lots of different countries - they have competing interests. Businesses want to protect their turf. Here was Canada’s minister of international trade, Ed Fast, at the press conference in Atlanta today.


ED FAST: Each one of us comes to the table with a clear goal of promoting and defending the interests of our own country, of our own economies. And that often means that there are very - some very tough discussions that take place. And at the end of the day, here we are as 12 TPP partners having achieved something that some time ago people didn't think was achievable.

MONTAGNE: Canada's minister of international trade, although - not so fast - it has not quite been achieved in the U.S. It's got to clear some political hurdles. Tell us about that.

ZARROLI: Yeah, all of these trade ministers have to go back home and sell the agreement, basically, to their legislatures, and that's going to be a challenge. You know, President Obama has spent a lot of political capital on the agreement. He says it will be good for businesses, good for farmers, and, as you might expect, he has a lot of support in the business world. But in Congress the reception is less clear. There's a lot of suspicion of trade pacts right now, especially among Democrats. And Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who is, of course, running for president, issued a statement right away saying he was very disappointed, Wall Street and big corporations have won again. Among Republicans, I think the administration has a lot more support, but this will be voted on early next year, and that is right in the middle of the presidential election campaign, and that really complicates the politics of this a lot. So look for a lot of lobbying over the next few months.

MONTAGNE: Jim, thanks very much.

ZARROLI: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's business correspondent, Jim Zarroli. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jim Zarroli is an NPR correspondent based in New York. He covers economics and business news.
Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.
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