The Pacific rim trade agreement is meant to promote workplace human rights, but this will require enforcement and effective dispute resolution
Not everyone a winner
But not all workers see themselves as gaining from the deal. For the US, TPP would mean jobs shipped to low-pay countries such as Vietnam according to US Teamsters union president James P Hoffa. Meanwhile, “promises that the TPP will help to raise labour standards in other countries will fall short; similar provisions in prior trade agreements didn’t deliver,” Hoffa has said.
Protections for workers could also be undermined by some loose rules on what qualifies as a product produced in the TPP nations. For example, a car will be considered to be eligible for tariff elimination under TPP even if up to 55% of its components are produced in non-TPP countries such as China or Thailand. Those non-TPP workers that contribute to the manufacture of the car would not be covered by the TPP labour chapter.
One crucial issue is how the labour chapter of TPP will be enforced. US unions argue that if countries are not kept to their promises to upgrade labour rights, a race to the bottom will soon follow.
Ultimately, however, before TPP can be judged on its protection of labour rights, the effectiveness of its labour provisions will have to be tested – and that could be several years away.
The line-by-line detail of TPP, including the labour chapter, is still not known. A final text will only be published after legal checks and translation. Even then, each country must ratify the agreement.
In the US, congressional approval is required, and it will be well into the first part of 2016 before the outcome is known. President Obama wants to leave office on a high at the end of 2016 and is pushing strongly to have the deal approved.
But even to formalise the TPP labour protections on paper, Obama must convince sceptical US unions and lawmakers. He has a major sales job ahead of him.