The McDonough School of Business held the Trans-Pacific Partnership Conference, sponsored by the McDonough Global Student Association, the Latin American Board and Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business Undergraduate Program Office on March 20.

The conference highlighted the progress of trade negotiations within the TPP and addressed the current issues on the negotiation table and the potential benefits of the impending agreement.

Considered to be the most significant trade agreement since the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994, the TPP is a free trade agreement between 12 countries — Australia, Brunei, Chile, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam — that has been ten years in the making. Originally begun in 2005 with four negotiating nations, the TPP gained a huge boost with the introduction of the United States to the group in 2011. The partnership is considered revolutionary because it plans to cover a much wider breadth of economic issues than previous trade agreements have incorporated.

The keynote speaker, Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Wendy Cutler (GRD ’83) who is well known for her work on the recent U.S.- South Korea free trade agreement, focused on the impact the agreement will have on all member countries and the future of trade in North America, Australia and Asia. While Cutler recognized that the TPP has not received extensive attention from the press in the United States, Cutler recalled having debates with taxi drivers in Japan about the TPP, noting the prominence the TPP has gained in other negotiating nations.

“I expect that the TPP will set the rules of the road for the Asia Pacific for the years ahead,” Cutler said.

Even as Cutler confidently discussed the significant impact the TPP will have on the region, the agreement has not been sealed and no fixed date has been set for finalization. The negotiations are in their final stages, but several issues remain, notably Japan’s insistence on continuing to protect its agricultural sector through subsidies. Cutler did not seem to be concerned about the lack of a deadline, and emphasized that the countries involved are not losing sight of what brought them to the table. The consensus among the 12 negotiating nations after the 19th round of talks in August 2013 in Brunei is that the TPP will soon be a quality, high-standard trade agreement.

Following Cutler’s remarks, representatives from Malaysia and Mexico discussed the benefits the TPP offers to potential member states. Hairil Yahri Yaacob, the minister counselor of economics at the Embassy of Malaysia, emphasized the vitality of the TPP for Malaysia by describing it as an opportunity for Malaysians to take advantage of the international marketplace.

Kenneth Smith Ramos (SFS ’91), the head of the Trade and NAFTA Office at the Embassy of Mexico, highlighted the importance of the TPP in Mexico’s plan to diversify its trade. Ramos described the TPP as a tremendous opportunity for assembling a global supply chain uniting all member countries that will benefit from the tariff and barrier-free trade.

The final portion of the conference featured a panel discussion of three economic and diplomatic experts: President of the Emergency Committee for American Trade Cal Cohen, Director for Asia at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Catherine Mellor and Director and Senior Vice President of International Government Affairs at CitiBank Charles R. Johnston.

Cohen provided a slightly less optimistic view than the other panelists. However, even he admitted to seeing good potential in the agreement if the negotiating countries can reach a consensus.

“The devil is in the details. … Nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to,” Cohen said. “The potential is higher right now than many of the other agreements on the table.”

Mellor also noted the incredible potential for the agreement to set the rules of economic cooperation for decades to come.

While every expert acknowledged the obstacles still remaining before the TPP is officially signed, they also unanimously agreed that if a comprehensive, high-quality agreement is reached, all 12 countries and their consumers will reap tremendous benefits.

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