The rise and fall and rise of the trans-pacific partnership: 21st century trade politics through a new constitutionalist lens

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The trans-pacific partnership (TPP) has been hailed as a bold step in trade diplomacy, a gold standard agreement which not only opens markets but also boosts labor and environmental protections. Despite its future being put in doubt by the US’ withdrawal, the TPP continues without it, touted as a ‘model’ agreement to shape trade politics in the coming years. To understand the rise and fall and rise of the TPP, this article analyses it through the framework of ‘new constitutionalism’: a set of judicial and institutional mechanisms that insulate transnational capital from democratic accountability, while also opening up new spaces for accumulation and co-opting resistance. Within this framework, the TPP is understood as an instrument of crisis management, attempting to preserve the rights of capital and stimulate accumulation in response to the post-2008 crisis, while also seeking to quell the backlash against free trade by addressing labor and environmental concerns. It is this duality, however, which undermines the success of the agreement. While on the one hand the TPP aims to foreclose progressive options for governance, at the same time, it opens up spaces from which neoliberal hegemony can be contested, empowering a diverse coalition to challenge the agreement.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)232-255
Number of pages24
JournalReview of International Political Economy
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • neoliberalism
  • new constitutionalism
  • TPP
  • trade

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