Trading Partners Release Trans-Pacific Partnership Details

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Trade ministers from a dozen Pacific nations in Trans-Pacific Partnership Ministers meeting post in TPP Ministers "Family Photo" in Atlanta, Georgia October 1. Reuters

WASHINGTON/SYDNEY (Reuters) - The long-awaited text of a landmark U.S.-backed Pacific trade deal was released on Thursday, revealing the details of a pact aimed at freeing up commerce in 40 percent of the world's economy but criticized for its opacity.

If ratified, the Trans-Pacific Partnership will be a legacy-defining achievement for U.S. President Barack Obama and his administration's pivot to Asia, aimed at countering China's rising economic and political influence.

Related: White House Set to Notify Congress About Trans-Pacific Partnership Signing, Start 90-Day Clock

Details of the TPP have been kept under wraps during the more than five years of negotiations, angering those concerned over its broad implications.

The agreement would set common standards on issues ranging from workers' rights to intellectual property protection in 12 Pacific nations.

"The TPP means that America will write the rules of the road in the 21st century," Obama said in post online. "If we don't pass this agreement—if America doesn't write those rules - then countries like China will."

China has responded with its own proposed 16-nation free-trade area, including India, that would be the world's biggest such bloc, encompassing 3.4 billion people.

The White House is likely to formally notify U.S. lawmakers on Thursday that the president intends to sign deal, a senior Obama administration official said. That would start the 90-day clock before his signature triggers the next step in a process of seeking final congressional approval.

The earliest the TPP could come before Congress is March, just as the U.S. presidential primary season is heating up, creating the risk that the deal becomes a campaign issue.

The TPP is opposed by labor unions and many of Obama's fellow Democrats who are worried about the impact on jobs, including presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who backed the developing trade pact when she was secretary of state during Obama's first term.

Some pro-trade Republican lawmakers are also wary of the deal, heralding a tough fight to get the deal through Congress. Republican White House contender Donald Trump has labeled it a "disaster."

House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican, said he was reserving judgment for now, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, whose support will be key for passage through Congress, said it looked forward to examining the details.

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman warned that trying to reopen the complex deal could unravel the whole package.

Fine Print

Japan has pledged to ease trade barriers on imported french fries and butter, which have been in short supply in the Asian market, while Malaysia will eliminate tariffs on all imported alcohol for the first time in a trade agreement.

Other firsts cited by the partner—Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam—include a prohibition on subsidies to harmful fisheries as well as commitments to discourage imports of goods produced by forced labor and to adopt laws on acceptable working conditions.

Malaysia will have to implement reforms to combat human trafficking, and Vietnam will have to allow independent labor unions before they can reap benefits of the pact.

But the deal does not include measures demanded by some U.S. lawmakers to punish currency manipulation with trade sanctions, disappointing carmaker Ford Motor Co, although members pledged not to deliberately weaken their currencies.

The TPP would be a boon for factory and export economies like Malaysia and Vietnam. Anticipated tariff perks are already luring record foreign investment into Vietnamese manufacturing, and both countries are expected to see increased demand for their key exports, including palm oil, rubber, electronics, seafood and textiles.

That could put pressure on several of Asia's major developing economies, including the Philippines and Indonesia, which have recently expressed interest in signing up to the pact. Thailand said it was studying the deal and might consider joining.