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By Peter Drahos
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) may yet be the agreement that most transforms national regulatory systems. It could be even more transformative than the Uruguay Round (1986–1994) that delivered the WTO and the 1994 Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). But much depends on if, and when, China joins the TPP.
So far 12 parties have signed a text of the TPP — Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, New Zealand, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam. But each party has to now shepherd this text through their respective domestic treaty-making processes. The TPP does not need the approval of all its signatories to come into force. Six or more signatories making up at least 85 per cent of the combined GDP of the original signatories would be enough to give the TPP legal force. But the United States, with its US$18 trillion GDP, does have to be part of the six.
In the United States, politicians like presidential hopeful Donald Trump will oppose the agreement, claiming that this will save American jobs. There will be drama and brinkmanship, just as there was with the WTO and the TRIPS Agreement. But because the TPP represents such a huge opportunity to influence the direction of national regulatory policy in the Asia Pacific enough business lobbies will support it to prod Congress into voting in its favour.
But, even if it passes US Congress, would China be interested in joining the TPP? After all, China is one of the leaders in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations, which is often depicted as the alternative to the TPP.