The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement – a multilateral negotiation between the United States and a number of its most important trading partners in Asia, North America and South America – is a balancing act between preserving existing U.S. jobs and creating new ones. As a former member of Congress, I understand the challenges our negotiators face to both protect U.S. workers and get a trade deal done. However, ensuring free and fair trade with specific provisions to protect American workers and innovators must be part of any final agreement. Free trade must also be fair trade, and the alternative – a weak agreement for the U.S. – will cost jobs and create added uncertainty for millions of U.S. citizens.
With President Obama’s reelection, TPP is likely to happen. The president wants it done next year, and many of our most important industries want TPP because of the tremendous market growth potential it represents. With the inclusion of Mexico and Canada, there’s also an opportunity to address lingering issues from NAFTA. We must show that we have learned from our past mistakes, get it right this time, and protect the interests of American workers and taxpayers. That means holding the line on the largest unresolved issue in TPP negotiations: Intellectual property (IP) protections.
Ensuring strong protections for American innovators is critically important for all workers, and current discussions have not addressed core intellectual property needs for long-term economic growth. With labor expertise needed to create U.S. jobs, I am concerned about incentives for American innovating firms to expand unless specific protections are included in the TPP. Highly skilled and trained workers are needed to build and service specialized facilities, including for advanced manufacturing, technology and pharmaceuticals. These skills support facilities that develop and manufacture cutting-edge products of the highest quality, and offer some of the best salaries. We must not sacrifice these jobs by compromising on intellectual property. Quite the opposite, we need to ensure that other countries in the TPP come up to our standards, which are the most rigorous in the world, in order to level the playing field and allow America to continue to lead the world in innovation.
There’s already strong bipartisan support for stringent IP rights. In September 2011, a bipartisan group of 37 U.S. Senators led by John Kerry and Orrin Hatch wrote to U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk noting, “intellectual property rights are a cornerstone for job creation and American competitiveness.” Similar letters have been pouring into the White House and the USTR over the past year and a half from members of Congress, Senators, and governors across the country, underscoring the critical nature of IP issues in the 21st Century economy. Of particular importance is the issue of data protection for biologic medicines, and ensuring U.S. law of 12 years is part of the final TPP language. These highly complex drugs hold immense promise for treating disease in the future, and must have adequate protections so American firms can continue to lead the way in new drug development and reap the benefits of the jobs created through innovation.
Failing to put adequate IP protections in place will put U.S. industries at a disadvantage, resulting in fewer investments in R&D, fewer innovative projects and fewer new facilities that create opportunities for organized labor. IP-intensive sectors employ more than 19 million Americans, and offer salaries up to 30 percent more than others across the private sector. They remain a bright spot in our economy, and we must focus on ways to balance economic growth and job creation while at the same time protecting the U.S. jobs that currently exist.
With Washington embroiled in gridlock over taxes and government spending, opening new markets for exports and the jobs that come with them is something both Republicans and Democrats can rally behind.
Klink, a former Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania, is currently a senior policy adviser at Nelson Mullins. He provides strategic counsel for clients on a number of issues, including intellectual property protections.