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Op-ed: Pacific trade pact must protect U.S. intellectual property

Published January 18, 2014 1:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

At a recent meeting in Salt Lake City, trade officials from the United States and 11 other nations made important progress on one of the most sweeping free-trade pacts in recent history. Known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the agreement promises to deliver significant economic benefits to the United States by opening up new markets for American goods and services throughout the Pacific Rim.

For the TPP to be effective, however, U.S. trade representatives need to insist on strong intellectual property protections that foster innovation and job creation. If negotiators give up ground on intellectual property, they could end up squandering a historic opportunity to bolster America's economy.

Trade has always played an essential role in creating jobs and spurring economic growth in our country. Today, more than 38 million American jobs depend on trade, including 350,000 in my home state of Utah. That's more than one in five jobs in the state — a proportion that has doubled over the past two decades.

As global growth continues to create new consumer markets around the world, exports will only become more vital to our nation's prosperity. Roughly 95 percent the world's consumers and about three-quarters of the world's purchasing power are outside of the United States. American industries — from manufacturing and agriculture to medical technology — have already shown they can compete abroad.

Yet, trade barriers still prevent our companies from thriving in some of the fastest-growing foreign markets.

Utah's food industry, for instance, could see significant benefits as TPP countries like Japan and Vietnam lower tariffs on food imports. Japan currently enforces a 38 percent tariff on beef products, a policy that artificially suppresses demand for one of Utah's major exports. The new trade pact could soon change that, boosting Utah's food industry in the process. In this way, the 12-country agreement would increase American exports by more than $123 billion by 2025, according to the latest estimates from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

In meetings in Salt Lake City and Singapore over the past two months, officials from the 12 negotiating partner countries have been able to make substantial progress toward concluding a strong, commercially meaningful TPP agreement. However, one issue that has yet to be resolved concerns intellectual property.

American negotiators are reportedly pushing for strong protections on copyrighted music and movies, patents, trade secrets, and pharmaceutical data protection. The pharmaceutical data protection for example, is critical because it provides the incentives required for scientists to conduct the research and development that produces new medicines for patients globally. According to the Obama administration, these "are some of the toughest items to negotiate."

It's critical that officials not sacrifice intellectual property protections for the sake of striking a timely deal. Indeed, if the TPP leaves U.S. companies less able to profit from original ideas and inventions, the trade pact could do serious harm to the U.S. economy.

Intellectual property-intensive industries are responsible for over 40 million American jobs paying an average of 42 percent higher wages. In Utah, more than 566,000 jobs depend on strong intellectual property protections. Weaker intellectual property rules would put these positions at risk, and undermine one of the trade agreement's chief goals: job creation.

Worse still, without strong intellectual property protections in place, American innovation will suffer. This is especially true in the life sciences industry. Utah's more than 600 life sciences firms not only employ over 25,000 people; they are responsible for important research in everything from genetic-based medicine to advanced nutrition.

But medical technologies are incredibly risky and expensive to develop, often requiring decades of research and millions of dollars in investment. And if the TPP leaves new biotech therapies vulnerable to foreign firms eager to create their own knock-off products, then investors and innovators will have little incentive to create more medical breakthroughs.

The TPP is a once-in-a-generation chance to create an open and competitive global marketplace for American goods and services. But if negotiators fail to stand up for our nation's innovators, the agreement could put our economy at an unfair disadvantage.

Curtis Bramble is president pro tem of the Utah Senate and chairs the Intellectual Property Subcommittee of the International Relations Task Force at the American Legislative Exchange Council.