Balance optimism over TPP deal with caution

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has been hailed for how it will benefit many, including Singapore's small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) ("TPP pact will bring economic benefits to all"; Wednesday, and "Pacific nations seal TPP trade deal"; Tuesday).

The recent stock market rallies were credited to the announcement of the TPP deal as well ("Asian stocks extend global rally on TPP trade deal, easy monetary policy; STI up 1.1%"; ST Online, Tuesday).

In the light of such positive sentiments, it is necessary to draw attention to three key issues that may distort the actual effects felt by both businesses and consumers in Singapore.

First, the TPP has yet to be ratified. Without ratification, the TPP remains an ideal and not a reality. Member states have to attain internal consensus through parliamentary action for the TPP to be ratified nationally.

Only then will the theoretical benefits of the TPP have the potential to come into fruition.

Second, a great information deficit exists, as the actual terms of the TPP remain clouded in secrecy.

Therefore, sweeping statements - both positive and negative - should be avoided until the TPP document is released in full.

Indeed, while companies may want to set up future business models with the TPP in mind, they have to be wary of other provisions that may be found in the wording of the actual TPP document, which may be less advantageous to them.

The tangible effects may diverge quite vastly from the optimistic expectations propounded thus far.

Finally, key aspects of the TPP that affect SMEs should be made known periodically, in a clear and simple manner. Such material may include potential updates to labour, environmental and investment laws, and changes to the intellectual property (IP) rights of businesses. The updates will better prepare and inform SMEs.

The completion of the negotiation stage of the TPP is a positive sign. However, optimism now has to be balanced with caution regarding the future.

The potential changes to IP rights, investment capabilities, labour and wage matters, and even environmental regulation can affect all stakeholders drastically in both good ways and bad.

Bruno Poh Teck Boon

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 10, 2015, with the headline 'Balance optimism over TPP deal with caution'. Print Edition | Subscribe