Amid protest, trade ministers from the US and 11 other countries gathered in New Zealand Thursday to sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)—a trade agreement involving 12 countries along the Pacific Rim that account for up to 42 percent of all US agricultural exports. Each country must now ratify the agreement through its own political process.

Supporters say the agreement—now more than five years in development—will bolster trade among member countries by eliminating tariffs and other barriers, while opponents fear the deal could be bad for jobs and award too much power to corporations.

But President Barack Obama called the deal one that puts American workers first and stressed Congress to enact it into law as soon as possible.

“Right now, the rules of global trade too often undermine our values and put our workers and businesses at a disadvantage,” Obama says. “TPP will change that. It eliminates more than 18,000 taxes that various countries put on Made in America products. It promotes a free and open Internet and prevents unfair laws that restrict the free flow of data and information. It includes the strongest labor standards and environmental commitments in history – and, unlike in past agreements, these standards are fully enforceable.  TPP allows America – and not countries like China – to write the rules of the road in the 21st century, which is especially important in a region as dynamic as the Asia-Pacific. Put simply, TPP will bolster our leadership abroad and support good jobs here at home.”

The Grocery Manufacturers Association has continued to voice its support of the TPP and urges Congress for swift approval.

“The TPP offers significant opportunities for GMA members,” says Pamela Bailey, GMA president and CEO. “The agreement will reduce or eliminate tariffs on the majority of U.S. food, beverage and consumer product exports and will strengthen TPP parties’ commitments to science-based, non-discriminatory regulations and technical standards.  These commitments are critical to enabling U.S. food, beverage, and consumer product exporters to fully realize the unprecedented market access opportunities offered by the TPP. GMA urges the U.S. Congress to approve the agreement as soon as possible.”