October 25, 2015    7 minute read

What’s right with the Trans-Pacific Partnership?

   October 25, 2015    7 minute read

What’s right with the Trans-Pacific Partnership?

This is a short version of a longer essay on the TPP which may be found here

  • The TPP may boost real-incomes by $285bln by 2025
  • US Congress should approve the TPP to avoid international political embarrassment
  • The TPP may be expanded to include South Korea, Taiwan and maybe even China
  • Many companies involved in auto, pharma, IT and agricultural should benefit

For Asia-Pacific, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is the most substantial trade agreement in history. In this video Cato Institute – Putting the TPP in Perspective: 150 Years of U.S. Trade Policy in Less than 4 Minutes – remind us that this is a “Managed Trade Agreement” rather than a “Free Trade Agreement” (FTA).

The 12 TPP participating countries – Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, USA and Vietnam – represent almost 40% of output and 25% of exports of goods and services globally. This makes it the largest regional trade agreement in history.

After five years of “horse-trading” and “turf-wars” the agreement was finally signed on 5th October, yet, with US Congressional enactment still awaited in December, much media commentary has focussed on the weaknesses of the agreement. These include:-

  • Agriculture – Japanese resistance to the elimination of tariffs on agricultural imports, including rice, beef, pork, dairy, wheat, barley, and sugar. Japan’s average most-favoured nation (MFN) tariff for agricultural products is 16.6% – although some tariffs are as high as 700%. The US accounts for 25% of agricultural imports to Japan.
  • Intellectual property rights – Whilst all TPP members agree on high IP standards, the devil is in the detail. The period of data exclusivity for drug tests, protection of trade secrets, and liability of ISPs for transmitting illegal/pirated material all remain contentious.
  • State-owned enterprises – TPP members are committed to levelling the playing field in respect of preferential access to finance or new markets. Problems arise over the length of the transition period before the new rules must be adopted, standardisation of accounting practices, board governance and unbiased procurement processes.
  • Labour – Issues remain around the adoption of ILO Fundamental Principles, prohibiting workplace discrimination and upholding consistent child labour practices.
  • Investor-State Dispute Settlement – Investor-State Dispute Settlement provisions allow international investors to use dispute settlement proceedings against host governments if they believe their property has been expropriated without compensation or regulated in a discriminatory manner. TPP members disagree about the extent of carve-outs from Investor-State Dispute Settlements for health, safety, and environmental regulations.

In attempting to assess the initial deal The Economist – Every silver lining has a cloud – said:-

First, there is the fact that the agreement has been so hard to sell in America. It took months, and several legislative setbacks, before Barack Obama won the authority to fast-track a congressional vote on TPP. The deal may still be voted down, in America or elsewhere. Those who would succeed Mr Obama as president know that TPP holds few votes. This week Hillary Clinton, the Democratic front-runner and once a promoter of TPP, came out against it. The beneficiaries of TPP—consumers, as well as exporters—are numerous, but their potential gains diffuse. By contrast, inefficient firms and farms, about to be exposed to greater foreign competition, are obvious and vocal. Canada, for example, limited the threat to its dairy farmers and doled out a big new subsidy. The saga is a reminder of how hard free trade is to champion.

Second, the TPP deal underscores the shift away from global agreements. The World Trade Organisation, which is responsible for global deals, has been trying, and largely failing, to negotiate one since 2001. Reaching agreement among its 161 members, especially now that average tariffs around the world are relatively low and talks are focused on more contentious obstacles to trade, has proved almost impossible. Regional deals are the next best thing, but, by definition, they exclude some countries, and so may steer custom away from the most efficient producer. In the case of TPP, the glaring outcast is China, the linchpin of most global supply chains.

Third, good news on TPP stands in contrast to bad news elsewhere. Cross-border trade today is as much about the exchange of data as it is the flow of goods and services: this week saw the annulment by a European court of a deal that had enabled American firms to transfer customer data across the Atlantic. Conventional trade faces even stronger headwinds. The volume of goods shipped in the first half of this year was just 1.9% higher than in the same period of 2014, far below its long-term average growth of 5%. This reflects not only China’s soggy demand for imports—a threat to the developing economies that supply it—but also the accumulation of minor measures that silt up global trade.

Deals like TPP are the most effective way to reverse this sorry trend, by reducing tariffs and other obstacles to trade. Optimists hope it can now be expanded, to include China and others. Sadly, experience suggests that will be hard.

Looked at from a more positive perspective, the TPP tops the US trade policy agenda, incorporating President Obama’s “Asia Pivot”. Signatory countries account for 36% of US trade in goods and services. US ratification of this agreement will upgrade a range of existing FTAs stretching back to NAFTA (1994).

With some exceptions – mostly in agriculture – the TPP aims to remove tariff barriers for goods and services. It will also address some “access” issues in areas such as competition policy, direct investment, labour and environmental standards.

Japan and the US will be the principal beneficiaries of the TPP (64% of GDP gains) but it has been estimated that the agreement could boost real incomes of member countries by $285bln by 2025, with exports increasing by $440 billion (+7%) assuming full-adoption.

The chart below shows the potential benefit in GDP terms:-


(Source: Economist and Peterson Institute)

Conclusions and investment opportunities

The TPP will probably under-deliver, however, perception that large scale, multilateral free-trade negotiation is back on the agenda, after such a long absence – NAFTA was back in 1994 – is likely to be supportive for markets.

Country level benefit to financial markets

  • Japan will benefit from the external assistance it lends to the policies of Abenomics. Japanese agriculture will be negatively affected but internal subsidies will mitigate its impact. The TPP should have a strong positive influence on the Nikkei. This will help support JGB yields but is unlikely to cause a significant increase in the JPY if the BoJ continues with its QQE policy..
  • Singapore should benefit, providing goods and services to its Asian neighbours. The Straits Times Index should be supported and the SGD is likely to appreciate.

Sectoral stock market effects

  • US, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand agricultural businesses should reap significant benefits over time – especially Australian sugar refineries – whilst agro-business in Japan will be impaired.
  • Vietnam’s apparel manufactures should have improved terms of trade, as will Malaysian Palm Oil producers.
  • Companies in the Japanese and US auto-industry will benefit.
  • US pharmaceutical companies will benefit.
  • IT companies, especially from the US but also Japan, will benefit.

In the long run, other countries, including South Korea, Taiwan and perhaps even China, may join the TPP. Uncertainty still revolves around final approval of the treaty by the US, but, as more information begins to emerge, investment flows will start to influence equity prices across certain sectors and, more broadly, on a country specific basis.

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