The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was signed yesterday in Auckland, New Zealand. It covers 12 nations which account for 40% of the world’s economy, and deals with $1.5 Trillion in annual trade goods:

  • United States
  • Canada
  • Mexico
  • Japan
  • Australia
  • New Zealand
  • Peru
  • Chile
  • Singapore
  • Vietnam
  • Malaysia
  • Brunei

A number of additional potential member states took an initial “wait and see” stance, so more nations may sign on, including Columbia, Indonesia, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand. Whatever your opinion on the topic, the TPP is, quite literally, a “big deal.” Perhaps the biggest ever seen on the planet.

TPP signing ceremony and Q&A of national representatives, Auckland, New Zealand

First, it should be noted large-scale trade deals are always very controversial. Take as examples the 1994 NAFTA agreement, which spawned the EZLN, a rebel faction in Mexico, and 1999 WTO pacts over the years, such as GATT,  which ultimately led to the “Battle in Seattle.” Indeed, NAFTA still sparks protests over 20 years after its passing. Not surprisingly, the TPP has fueled public protests long before its signing, ranging from trade unions, environmentalists, human and animal rights workers, and public health advocates.


So what does the TPP mean to you and your globally-oriented business? It depends greatly on who you ask. Either it is going to “help increase Made-in-America exports, grow the American economy, support well-paying American jobs, and strengthen the American middle class,” or it “will offshore millions of good-paying jobs to low-wage nations, undercutting working conditions globally and increasing unemployment.” Still others believe it a tempest in a teapot that might net out very little difference for anyone; the equivalent of near-zero net GDP growth by 2025.

The TPP has support from many politicians including the assembled heads of state of the 12 countries initially entering into the agreement, as well as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and many multinational corporations. But it has also been vociferously opposed by other incumbent or candidate politicians, public advocacy groups, trade unions and businesses which fear to lose out to stiffer international competition from the deal.

What everyone is equally concerned about is that we’ll have to watch this play out across the global economy in real time to see who is right.

We’re not here to pick a political side, nor are we going to issue any economic forecast. Our goal is the same as ever: to help your company translate and localize your apps for the marketplaces you want to operate in, and to be a reliable partner to help you make sense of an increasingly complex globalized marketplace.

In the opinions of many, the biggest impact of TPP isn’t just on basic material good tariffs because, as Tim Worstall opined on Forbes, “most of the important trade issues have already been dealt with under various GATT and then WTO rounds of negotiation.” The TPP goes far beyond simple tangible commodities, consumer electronics or luxury goods. There are also technical and social aspects of the TPP which will effect a wide range of Internet and software-related businesses — even affecting personal freedoms. The impacts range from digital copyright enforcement and fair use policies.

The EFF is definitely a critic, calling the extension of time to an author’s life plus 70 years a “copyright trap,” and also shows great leeriness at TPP’s impact of fair use. For editors of open-source collaborative projects, like Wikipedia, it’s been dubbed the “problematic partnership,” or more forcefully, “The Battle of Copyright.” Arrayed against the free-and-open Internet types are those with large stakes in Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) such as patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets, as well as those government agencies looking to enforce such. IPR powerhouses are definitely in favor of the changes.

This doesn’t fundamentally change the foundation of translation work — copyright law — wherein a translation is a derivative work; all rights still remain with the owner of the original work. It does, however, impact the works of some translators of older materials which were thought expired and now in the public domain, yet which may become retroactively subject to another 20 years of copyright protection!

It also may greatly affects those translating foreign-language information under the doctrine of “fair use,” who may find the narrower interpretation encroaches on their day-to-day work. The “perfect storm” could be if you translated, say, leaked information of a new product under development. With increased prosecutorial powers under the TPP, you might find that such an act now puts you of hazard of violations of both copyright (since it’s no longer “fair use”) and industrial espionage (trade secret) laws! This has a serious potential impact on trade journalism and content curators.

In a completely different aspect of globalization, TPP will also sweep away a lot of regulation around data localization, which may impact consumer and citizen privacy, and may also fundamentally affect current thinking in IT architecture and data flows of large-scale global systems. Of course, a lot still has to be hashed out within and between the nations of the TPP. Plus, it doesn’t affect any nations outside the parties to the TPP at all, so don’t expect this to just magically relieve all burdens of data localization. The TPP has thrown quite a curve ball of complexity. If you are working on a global data-centric project, TPP will definitely make you rub your chin and go, “Hrm.”

Do you have any opinion on the TPP? Do you have any upcoming localization or translation jobs that you need done in any of the TPP partner countries, or elsewhere around the world? Let us know! We’d love to hear from you. Contact us at [email protected]