The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement and the U.S.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) is a free trade agreement between 12 countries in the Asia Pacific region—Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam. The agreement was signed by the United States and other participating countries in Auckland, New Zealand on February 4, 2016.

The TPP has been described as a “mega-regional” trade agreement that is “ambitious in scope, reaching far into the internal legal organs of countries . . . and in geography, stretching across oceans and regions.”[1] It covers a wide range of areas including “customs and trade facilitation, . . . technical barriers to trade; trade remedies; investment; services; electronic commerce; government procurement; intellectual property; labour; environment; . . . [and] dispute settlement.”[2] The stated goals of the TPP include promoting “economic integration to liberalise trade and investment . . . and . . . sustainable growth.”[3]

Free trade agreements have been a public hot button issue in the United States for decades.[4] The TPP—which has been the subject of controversy since 2008 when President George W. Bush initiated U.S. participation in the negotiations[5]—has been no exception. The size and vast reach of the TPP, especially in the areas of intellectual property, labor, and the environment[6] and the ‘secrecy’ of the negotiations[7] appear to have caused an increased level of concern. The agreement was the subject of heightened rhetoric and debate throughout the contentious 2016 U.S. presidential election as many candidates and political parties expressed strenuous objections to the ‘mega-trade’ agreement during the run-up to Election Day.[8] In January of this year, the new U.S. president directed the United States Trade Representative (U.S.T.R.) to withdraw the U.S. from the agreement within a few days of taking the oath of office.[9] And, shortly thereafter, the Obama administration’s positive spin on the TPP in the U.S. Trade Representative website was replaced with a heading proclaiming an “America First Trade Policy.”[10]

The new president’s order to withdraw the U.S. from the TPP effectively ends U.S. participation,[11] leaving the fate of the TPP uncertain among the other signatories. Some commentators have called the president’s memorandum the “death warrant for the Trans-Pacific Partnership”[12] and some of the 11 other signatories to the 12-country agreement appear to concur.[13] However, other signatory countries have expressed interest in or commitment to continuing work on regional free trade without the United States.[14] It is certainly possible for the TPP to move forward without the U.S. because implementation of the TPP requires ratification only by at least six of the signatory countries during the two-year ratification period.[15] It is also possible that the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP),[16] a free trade agreement between China, the countries in the ten-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and Australia, India, Japan, Republic of Korea and New Zealand[17] will fill the resulting trade agreement gap if the TPP is entirely abandoned.[18]

The consequences of the U.S. withdrawal from the TPP will undoubtedly play out on the political stage within the United States and internationally. Whether the TPP ends entirely or the other 11 signatory countries move forward without the U.S., researchers and citizens may wish to learn more about the TPP or to follow developments relating its fate. There are numerous sources of information freely available on the web in addition to books and journal articles one may find in libraries and for-fee databases.


 The final text of the TPP is the result of 19 negotiating rounds and numerous meetings between the trade delegations of the 12 participating countries between 2010 and 2015.[19]

Documents and materials generated for use in the negotiating rounds have not been released to the public. However, the full text of the agreement itself and related public documents are available on the web in government and international organization websites. The best sites for finding public documents, background information, government statements, press releases, and commentary in English [20] are:

Information about the TPP is also found in Spanish in the government websites of Chile and Peru; links are available in the SICE website. Information about the TPP in French is available through the Government of Canada site linked above.

U.S. Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports are excellent sources of U.S. based explanations and analyses and are available online in PDF on the website of the Federation of American Scientists (FAS). The following reports are especially instructive, although a search of the FAS site will retrieve many others:

Trade-related international organization and think tank websites are also useful. Search these sites using the terms <trans-pacific partnership>.

  • World Trade Organization <>. A search of this site retrieves press releases, presentations, and other documents in which the TPP is discussed or noted.
  • The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) <>. Search this site to locate UNCTAD books, policy briefs, and analyses on the TPP.
  • Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE) <> publishes reports, briefings, and commentary on economic issues, including trade and the TPP. Policy briefs, analyses, working papers, opinions/editorials, and other materials are freely available on the website. Some publications, e.g., books, must be purchased.
  • Council on Foreign Relations <> Search this site to find news, opinion pieces, podcasts, and other materials on the TPP. The site also includes blogs such as the “Asia Unbound” blog, which includes many entries on the TPP.
  • Brookings Institution <>. Search this site for articles, news, and commentary on the agreement.
  • American Enterprise Institute <>. This site includes commentaries on the TPP.

These selected books are useful for learning about the TPP:

Cimino-Isaacs and J.J. Schott, co-editors. Trans-Pacific Partnership: An Assessment. (Policy Analyses in International Economics 104). Washington, D.C.: Peterson Institute for International Economics, July 2016.

D.A. Gantz. Liberalizing International Trade after Doha: Multilateral, Plurilateral, Regional, and Unilateral Initiatives. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2013

C.L. Lim, D.K. Elms and P. Low, co-editors. The Trans-Pacific Partnership: A Quest for a Twenty-first Century Trade Agreement. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

Palit. The Trans-Pacific Partnership, China and India: Economic and Political Implications. London: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2014.

P.A. Petri, M. G. Plummer and F. Zhai, co-editors. The Trans-Pacific Partnership and Asia-Pacific Integration: a Quantitative Assessment. Washington, DC: Peterson Institute for International Economics, c2012.

J.J. Schott, B. Kotschwar and J. Muir, co-authors. Understanding the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Policy Analyses in International Economics 99. Washington, DC: Peterson Institute for International Economics, January 2013.

Voon. Trade Liberalisation and International Co-operation: a Legal Analysis of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, [2013].

Barbara H. Garavaglia

University of Michigan Law Library


[1] Polly Botsford, “Global free Trade in the 21st Century.” IBA Global Insight 68, no. 4 (August/September 2014): 16-21, 17.

[2] “Summary of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement: Scope,” Office of the United States Trade Representative <>. Available as of 27 January 2017.

[3] Preamble, Trans-Pacific Partnership Final Text, available online at < >.

[4] Other agreements that caused protest and debate in the U.S. and other participating countries: the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade of 1948 (GATT) which culminated in the creation of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995; the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) of 1994; the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) of 2004; and more recently work on the development of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP) between the U.S. and the European Union.

[5] Trans-Pacific Partnership, Hearing before the Subcommittee on Trade of the Committee on Ways and Means, U.S. House of Representatives, 112th Congress, First Session, Serial No. 112-TR4 (December 14, 2011), p 2.

[6] Catherine Ho. “Fact-checking the campaigns for and against the TPP trade deal.” Washington Post “Power Post” (February 11, 2016).

[7] The fact that the negotiating documents and materials have been kept ‘secret’ by participating governments is one of the major criticisms of the TPP. Negotiating documents for free trade agreements are usually not released to avoid compromising negotiating positions. In the U.S., although these materials were not released to the public, the information was shared with the U.S. Senate throughout the negotiations.

[8] See, for example: “2016 presidential candidates on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.” In Ballotpedia: The Encyclopedia of American Politics; “Presidential Candidates on the Trans-Pacific Partnership.” Election 2016, New York Times (December 15, 2015); Everett Rosenfeld, “Trans-Pacific Partnership: GOP candidates split on deal.” CNBC (Wednesday, 21 Oct 2015).

[9]Presidential Memorandum Regarding Withdrawal of the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership Negotiations and Agreement.” The White House, Office of the Press Secretary (January 23, 2017). The memorandum directs the United States Trade Representative to “to provide written notification to the Parties and to the Depository of the TPP, as appropriate, that the United States withdraws as a signatory of the TPP and withdraws from the TPP negotiating process.”

[10] Office of the United States Trade Representative at <>.

[11] The agreement had not yet been ratified by the United States Senate.

[12] Adam Davidson. “What the Death of the T.P.P. Means for America.” New Yorker (January 23, 2017).

[13] Joshua Berliner. “TPP unravels: Where the 11 other countries go from here.” CNN (January 24, 2017).

[14] Id. See also “Australia and New Zealand to pursue ‘TPP 12 minus one’.” BBC News: Business (January 24, 2017).

[15] Rebecca Howard. “Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal signed, but years of negotiations still to come.” Reuters, U.S. edition (February 4, 2016). Available online at <>.

[16] Information about the RCEP is available on the Asia Regional Integration Center: Tracking Asian Integration website at <>.

[17] Emiko Jozuka. “TPP vs RCEP? Trade deals explained.” CNN (January 24, 2017).

[18] Id.

[19] “Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) – Background and Negotiations,” Organization of American States Foreign Trade Information System, <

[20] Until 2017 the U.S.T.R. website was a reliable source of the TPP final text and background documents. Links to the full text and some other documents seem to be in the process of being replaced with links to the opening page of the U.S.T.R. website proclaiming “America First.”