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The TPP is not an agreement among like-minded countries

- December 12, 2013

This is another post from Gabriel Michael, a doctoral candidate at George Washington University, who works on intellectual property and international diffusion.

Early Monday morning, WikiLeaks released a second set of documents pertaining to the ongoing Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations. The TPP is a free trade agreement currently being negotiated between 12 countries: the United States,Canada, Mexico, Peru, Chile, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and Japan. After nearly four years, negotiations are nearing completion. However, no drafts of the treaty have ever been officially released to the public. Rather than going into much detail about the substantive issues, I’ll recommend this Guardian guide to the most contentious issues in the TPP negotiations for those who need to get up to speed.
Last month, WikiLeaks released a draft text of a single chapter of the agreement. While illuminating, it also raised the question: What did the other two dozen or so chapters contain? The most recent link does not include any draft texts, but instead consists of comments by an unidentified negotiating party and a table reporting each negotiating party’s position on specific proposals within each chapter. The documents originated from the Salt Lake City round of negotiations, which took place Nov. 19 to Nov. 24.
The comments are brief but worth reading, as they indicate a degree of frustration with the lack of progress during the Salt Lake City round and explicitly charge the United States with intransigence. For example, on the topic of agricultural export subsidies, the author writes “All TPP countries except the U.S. commit to eliminate them.” Likewise, with respect to financial services, the author comments: “United States shows zero flexibility.”
An additional round of negotiations was held from Dec. 7 to Dec. 10 in Singapore. On Tuesday, it was reported that, contrary to previous expectations, the TPP will not be concluded by year’s end, and instead at least one additional meeting will be held next month.
>In a previous post, I analyzed the single leaked chapter on intellectual property, creating network graphs to represent degrees of commonality in negotiating positions between countries. The current leak permits a different approach. The table reporting negotiating positions describes each country’s stance on individual proposals: “accept,” “reject” or “reserved position.” By comparing the degree of similarity or difference between negotiating positions, it’s possible to construct a measure of “distance” between countries.
Then, using a visualization technique called multidimensional scaling (MDS), we can plot each country on a graph and let the distances between the countries represent the distances between their negotiating positions. Since the leaked documents contain information on multiple chapters, we can analyze negotiating positions and distances overall, and on a chapter by chapter basis.
The leaked documents describe negotiating positions for fourteen chapters, or about half of the overall agreement. Plotting negotiating positions across all these chapters produces the following:
These graphs are a bit strange to interpret at first. Keep in mind that you’re actually looking at a “coordinate plane”: It’s like the graph paper you used in algebra class. The distances between countries represent the dissimilarity in their negotiating positions. The center of the graph represents a theoretical consensus point: It’s the mathematical middle of all the various negotiating positions. Thus, the distance between a country and the center can also provide some information. Since it’s graph paper, there are no units, and the axes are simply X and Y, without any additional meaning. What’s important is the relative distances between one country and another, and between a country and the center
In this first graph, we essentially see a jumble of countries around the center, and the United States by itself on the left. In the middle, some countries are closer to one another (so close, in fact, that in some cases they overlap): for example, Malaysia and Vietnam, or Canada and Mexico. But the United States is strikingly separated. This means that when considering all available data, the United States’ overall negotiating position is rather lonely. Of course, as the most powerful player in the negotiations, this isn’t necessarily surprising. However, it also shows that the TPP is anything but an agreement amongst “like-minded” countries, as the United States trade representative has described it.
The previous leak revealed the text of the intellectual property (IP) chapter. How do negotiating positions on this chapter look in the current leak?
In this case, the results are even more striking. Ten countries fall very close to the center and are close enough to one another to be hard to distinguish. Meanwhile, the United States is an extreme outlier in its position on intellectual property issues, with Australia between the United States and everyone else
Next up is the environment chapter. Although there are few public details on the contents of this chapter, some reports suggest that the United States has opposed climate change mitigation measures in the text. The leaked documents also make mention of biodiversity, dispute settlement and fisheries.
Note that I’ve reduced the scale of this and subsequent graphs. Still, the graph shows significant distance between most negotiating parties (although Brunei and Mexico are overlapping). Again, however, the United States appears farthest from the center.
The legal chapter includes a variety of topics such as a “medicines transparency annex,” in which the United States takes aim at foreign drug price controls, provisions exempting tobacco regulations from challenge, a “cultural exception” for media (bonjour Québec!) and issues concerning when the agreement will enter into force.
There is less distance between negotiating positions here, and clusters are beginning to emerge: e.g., the United States and Japan, and Brunei and Malaysia. But the United States still remains stubbornly on the periphery.
The market-access chapter is what most people typically think of when discussing trade agreements: the reduction and elimination of tariffs, quotas, subsidies and other import/export controls.
Here, we see a wide variety of positions, representing significant disagreement. However, yet again, the United States appears farthest from the center. As noted above, the U.S. is the lone holdout on the proposal to eliminate agricultural subsidies. A recent Washington Post article on the U.S. sugar industry suggests that such subsidies aren’t going anywhere.
Rules of origin determine where a product is deemed to come from. Given that anything other than the simplest products will incorporate materials or parts from multiple countries, such rules are critically important in determining what products benefit from tariff reductions.
Again, there is significant disagreement between most parties, but the United States’ negotiating position remains farthest from the center.
Without access to the text, it’s difficult to know exactly what some of the proposals in the leaked documents mean. However, we can say that in the majority of chapters for which we have data, the United States appears quite far from the center negotiating position and is frequently alone. To anyone familiar with these issues, this isn’t news, but the leaks and this analysis do provide us an opportunity to systematically consider the distances between negotiating positions and to see how the distances vary by chapter.
Contention and disagreement isn’t always bad; on the contrary, it’s part and parcel of any negotiation. But one has to wonder about which countries are going to end up shifting positions, and in what direction, in order to make consensus and a final text possible. Reading through the leaked commentary leads me to suspect that the United States won’t be offering many compromises.
There are important issues at stake in the TPP negotiations, affecting access to medicines, innovation policy, health and safety regulation and national sovereignty. Meanwhile, the negotiating parties are rushing to come to an agreement within the next two months. While Monday’s leak is a few weeks out of date, it looks like there will need to be a lot of compromise – or perhaps capitulation – before a final text can be agreed upon.
You can follow me on Twitter at @gabrieljmichael
All these graphs use standard 2 letter
country codes, but for reference, here is a legend:

US United States
CA Canada
JP Japan
AU Australia
NZ New Zealand
MX Mexico
PE Peru
CL Chile
SG Singapore
MY Malaysia
BN Brunei
VN Vietnam

If you’d like a more technical explanation of how these graphs are produced, as well as information on other chapters in the text, head over to my personal blog.