The United States, Japan and 10 other Pacific Rim countries reached an agreement to lower trade barriers, bolster worker protections and set standards for a raft of other industries in a far-reaching trade pact announced on Monday.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement is the result of years of negotiations and encompasses nearly 40 percent of the world economy. President Obama lauded the agreement as good for American businesses as well as the environment but now must convince Congress to sign off on it.
Many of the details have yet to be released, but here are some key points about Monday's agreement:
The White House heralded the agreement, saying it will end import tariffs on made-in-America goods sold in countries that sign on to the pact. "This partnership levels the playing field for our farmers, ranchers, and manufacturers by eliminating more than 18,000 taxes that various countries put on our products," President Barack Obama said in a statement.
Trade unions and other critics say the deal will likely cost jobs. "Past trade deals have been a disaster for American workers," said Rep. Mark Pocan, a Wisconsin Democrat, in a statement. "So it is imperative Congress rigorously reviews this deal to ensure the American people are not being taken for a ride yet again."
Another key source of controversy stemmed from drug companies' efforts to protect their patents.
U.S. drugmakers wanted 12 years of protection from competitors for biologics — ultra-expensive medicines produced in living cells. That is longer than in any country except the United States. Critics say that blocking competitors from making near-copies means plenty of people who need the drugs won't be able to afford them. Instead of the dozen years drug companies wanted, their biologics will get up to eight years of protection.
Judit Rius Sanjuan, legal policy adviser to Doctors Without Borders, said in a statement that "TPP will still go down in history as the worst trade agreement for access to medicines in developing countries, which will be forced to change their laws to incorporate abusive intellectual property protections for pharmaceutical companies."
THE COUNTRIES INVOLVED:
The trade pact known as the TPP is designed to facilitate trade among the U.S. and a host of other countries scattered across both sides of the Pacific Ocean. Besides the U.S., here's the rest of the group: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. China, the world's second-largest economy, is not part of the agreement, but could join later.
NOT OVER YET:
The president has to wait 90 days before signing the pact, and only then will Congress begin the process of voting on it.
As a result, a vote on the TPP likely will not happen until well into 2016, where it is likely to get ensnarled in the politics of a presidential election year. Congress can only give the deal an up-or-down vote. It can't amend the agreement.