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Release Of Trade Agreement Text Stokes Debate Over TPP

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And now this news, people have been debating the Trans-Pacific Partnership for many months, but only now can we know what on earth they are actually talking about. Details of the big trade agreement have finally been revealed. NPR's John Ydstie reports on how the debate is changing, starting with a congressman who must vote on the deal.

JOHN YDSTIE, BYLINE: I caught up with Congressman Ron Kind, a Democrat from Wisconsin, on his way to the airport. He is headed home for the week and expects to spend some time explaining the new trade deal to his constituents. He supports it, and he says he'll tell the folks in Wisconsin that TPP will help raise standards and level the playing field.

RON KIND: For our workers, our businesses, our family farmers so they can more effectively compete in one of the fastest-growing regions of the global economy, this Pacific Rim area.

YDSTIE: Specifically, Kind said the deal would be good for the dairy industry in Wisconsin.

KIND: We export a lot of dairy products, so this is going to be good for production agriculture back home.

YDSTIE: Kind also touts the worker protections in the agreement that are designed to raise working conditions and wages in developing countries. Supporters say they will ease the pressure on U.S. companies to send U.S. jobs overseas.

KIND: We have for the very first time negotiated core international labor and environmental and human rights standards from the body of this agreement, fully enforceable like any other provision.

YDSTIE: Those labor protections include bilateral agreements with Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei that require freedom to organize unions and to strike. But the AFL-CIO said yesterday it will work against the TPP because it believes those protections will not be enforced, especially in Vietnam. John Sifton of Human Rights Watch agrees.

JOHN SIFTON: Our concern is that Vietnam may make legal reforms on paper that allow the agreement to come into force with respect to Vietnam, and then Vietnam will turn around and not actually allow unions to be created.

YDSTIE: Sifton acknowledges that the accord does give the U.S. the right to retaliate against Vietnam after five years if it doesn't live up to its obligations. But he's concerned a future U.S. administration, less friendly to labor, might decide not to retaliate. Human Rights Watch, Doctors Without Borders, and some other groups oppose another provision of the law that would protect patents on certain kinds of drugs called biologics for five to eight years. Some TPP nations including Vietnam and Mexico don't currently honor those patents and allow the sale of generics. Sifton says the new protections for drug companies will have a negative impact on health care in poorer countries.

SIFTON: The TPP's provisions will lead to situations where people who need life-saving medicines don't get them.

YDSTIE: Supporters of the protections for drug companies say they will help ensure the development of new life-saving drugs. The TPP includes many other provisions that will be hotly debated for months before a vote in Congress next spring. The Obama administration and its supporters face some significant hurdles. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, once a TPP supporter, now says the deal doesn't appear to meet her standards. Donald Trump opposes it, and the new Speaker of the House Paul Ryan so far is not convinced. Congressman Kind says there is no perfect trade agreement, but like President Obama, he says if the U.S. doesn't help set the rules of trade in Asia, China will. John Ydstie, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.