Despite the swirl of negativity and fear mongering that tens of thousands of Canadian jobs are at stake, the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is actually seen as beneficial by the majority of businesses and consumers in the countries that have signed it.
According to independent research carried out by Edelman, 69 per cent of businesses and 67 per cent of consumers from TPP nations believe the free trade deal, which was signed recently by 12 member nations, will be beneficial to their economies.
The landmark agreement was signed on Oct. 5 by the U.S., Singapore, Australia, Malaysia, Japan, Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, Peru, Vietnam, Mexico and Canada.
Edelman polled 1,000 businesses and 1,000 consumers in the nations that signed the TPP, excluding Brunei and Peru. The results show that the TPP is largely viewed in a positive light and there is significant awareness of the agreement.
From the company perspective, 52 per cent of businesses feel they are prepared for TPP, and 53 per cent feel it will have a positive impact on jobs.
At the consumer level, 67 per cent believe the TPP will be beneficial to the economy, but only 47 per cent feel it will benefit them and their families. Only 40 per cent of consumers are worried about the TPP’s impact on employment.
U.S. consumers are least aware of the TPP with just 40 per cent; Japan has the highest level of awareness with 95 per cent.
Mixed reactions in Canada
The member nations must now seek domestic ratification of the TPP, which is far from a forgone conclusion despite the partner-level approval. Much rests on the final text of the agreement due to be released shortly; the TPP garnered significant criticism for the secrecy around its five-year negotiation.
But the positive outlook on the TPP contrasts strong opposition by some unions in Canada.
The trade deal Stephen Harper's government has signed only two weeks before a federal election will kill good manufacturing jobs, dairy farm jobs and harm Canadians dependent on pharmaceutical drugs, said the United Steelworkers union.
"The safeguarding of Canadian jobs has been completely lost under Harper. His government has used every opportunity to dismantle the job-saving supply management systems in Canada. The dairy farmers have much to fear about Harper's deal," said Ken Neumann, National Director for the United Steelworkers.
From what we know, the TPP threatens production and employment in Canada and it will be a critical blow to workers and their standard of living.
This deal will continue Canada's disastrous approach to trade under successive Liberal and Conservative governments, he said.
The Harper Conservatives have acknowledged that the newly signed Trans-Pacific Partnership will adversely impact the sector, according to Unifor.
The Harper Conservatives announced that, if re-elected, they will expand auto industry programs by $100 million per year for 10 years, beginning in 2017/18, to help it cope with the effects of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (including the weakening of content rules and the rapid elimination of auto tariffs).
"We interpret this announcement as an acknowledgement by the Harper Conservatives that the TPP poses a significant threat to Canada's auto industry," said Unifor National President, Jerry Dias.
But others like, the BC Seafood Processors Association lauded the Harper government for concluding the deal.
"The TPP trade agreement will help our processor members fulfil their potential and realize new business opportunities," said Chris Sporer, Executive Director of the Seafood Producers Association of British Columbia, the largest organization of wild seafood processing companies on Canada's Pacific coast.
Canada's Pacific wild seafood industry provides a safe, secure and nutritious food source for Canada and the world.
Seafood is British Columbia's most valuable agrifood food export commodity – about $1 billion per year and wild seafood accounts for almost two thirds of that export value. Japan is B.C.'s most important seafood market and tariffs on B.C. seafood currently range from 3.5 to 11 per cent, while Vietnam applies tariffs of up to 34 per cent, Malaysia of up to 15 per cent and New Zealand of up to 5 per cent.
"TPP will not only enhance our industry's access to key high value and growing Pacific seafood markets", notes Sporer, "it will also help ensure a continued level playing field with our main competitors for these markets."
Different priorities in each member's market
Iain Twine, CEO of Edelman Southeast Asia and Australasia, said: "Because each TPP government is responsible for articulating TPP to their nations, and to ratifying within their local parliamentary processes, there are going to be multiple voices trying to push through or shut down the ratification process.
"Our polling shows that TPP is an issue people care about, and the political process will have to take account of these views."
Unsurprisingly, some reservations remain. Malaysian consumers top the sceptics chart, with just 49 per cent feeling the TPP will benefit them.
Interestingly, awareness of the TPP in business was highest in New Zealand and Japan – 97 per cent – but both countries were at the bottom – 17 per cent – in believing it will be an advantage to them.
"It’s a fascinating communications challenge as well as a political challenge," Twine told PRWeek. "Sitting in Southeast Asia you get a sense of people being excited about it.
"We wanted to find out how businesses will prepare. [The data] helps our clients think about their readiness for when the TPP is eventually ratified. They are looking forward to it, but still holding judgment until the text is revealed."
Chadd McLisky, managing director of Edelman’s Southeast Asia & Australasia corporate practice, said: "Everyone must start to review their reputations and business methods right now. All member markets have different priorities, but ultimately all companies are going to face significant new challenges in their marketing and business operations."
Amidst growing public concern that the federal government is hiding key details of the newly signed Trans-Pacific Partnership, Unifor has joined others calling for the full text to be released immediately, so that Canadians have sufficient opportunity to study the landmark trade deal well before the federal election.
Why does TPP matter?
Well, it's all about numbers, according to a BBC analysis.
The 11 countries that are currently part of the negotiations are all members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec).
They have a combined population of more than 650 million people. A free trade agreement could turn this into a potential single market for many businesses.
The average per capita income in the participating countries was $31,491 in 2011 and their combined gross domestic product (GDP) stood at more than $20 trillion.
One cannot ignore the fact that the initiative is being led by the U.S., the world's biggest economy and biggest trading nation, and one that sees Asia-Pacific as key to its future growth.
Some analysts have even suggested that the U.S. may be trying to use the TPP as a means to undermine China's growing economic might in the region.
Many believe that other members of the Apec bloc may also join the agreement in the coming years, making it an even more important pact.
In all, 21 Apec countries account for about 44 per cent of global trade. They also make up some 40 per cent of the world's population.
Published in partnership with Asian Pacific Post.