So what are the real issues?
The big topic that does seem to be legitimate is that the TPP will allow corporations to sue governments through so-called investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS), but that individuals will not be given an equivalent right to sue corporations.
But that may also be a little overblown. A persistent example has been water rights in Canada. There have been a number of lawsuits where US and Canadian companies have sued the Canadian government for not allowing it to export or use Canadian water.
Canada protects its water supplies. And in 1998 it was sued by Sun Belt Water for banning the export of water to California. The case went nowhere. But then in 2002, SD Myers – a US hazardous waste disposal company – was awarded $8 million from the Canadian government for loss of profit.
The Canadian government is also being sued by energy company Lone Pine Resources because it banned fracking as a way to protect its water. And the Canadian government settled for $130m after it was sued by US forestry company AbitibiBowater after the company went into bankruptcy because the government has grabbed its assets in Newfoundland to pay for clean-up costs and worker pensions.
The issue in each case was the NAFTA trade agreement, which listed water as a tradable good.
So there are some concerns that companies will be able to sue governments in the Pacific Rim if and when they pass environmental measures that impact their bottom line. And that in turn may make government a little more wary of passing such legislation. It gives corporations an extra bit of power in negotiations.
But on the plus side, the TPP does contain a host of measures for protecting the environment across all signatory nations (critics complain they are not enforceable enough), and it does extend workers rights and union rights and bans child labor (critics complain they are not sufficiently enforceable).
The deal opens up markets and brings down barriers (critics fear it will lead to jobs leaving their country and ending up in others). It puts in place a free and open internet (critics complain the promises are too vague).
In short, it's a trade deal. Overall, it's a good deal. Nothing in it will destroy the world or bring in a new era of peace and prosperity. But it will simplify things, and that is, in the end, a good thing.
From a purely US perspective, the best pitch for the deal comes from President Obama who summed it up thus: "The TPP means that America will write the rules of the road in the 21st century. When it comes to Asia, one of the world’s fastest-growing regions, the rulebook is up for grabs. And if we don’t pass this agreement – if America doesn’t write those rules – then countries like China will. And that would only threaten American jobs and workers and undermine American leadership around the world."
The big problem with the TPP is not really the TPP itself; it's the fact that it was the first big trade deal drawn up in the internet era. As such, the highly secretive process for creating it is out of keeping with the times.
There is some irony that a deal designed to bring the world into the 21st century was developed through a 20th century process. But as all the criticism over the next few weeks will make plain: change may be difficult and painful, but it has to happen. ®