Battle over Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal could last more than a year
The final text of the 30-chapter Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement may not be available until early next month, and the earliest vote on it in Congress will be February. But that vote might not take place until December 2016.
And, though liberal Democrats don’t like the agreement and most Republicans tend to favor what they mislabel as “free trade,” the opposing sides on the agreement are not completely aligned in the usual partisan way.
Given this fact and that it’s an election year, it’s hard to be certain how the vote will turn out although it’s clear that President Obama, armed with fast-track authority, has the advantage:
Now the deal faces months of scrutiny in Congress, where some bipartisan opposition was immediate. That debate will unfurl against the backdrop of a presidential campaign in which populist anti-trade talk against the deal is already prominent.Still, for Mr. Obama the accord could be a legacy-making achievement, drawing together countries representing two-fifths of the global economy, from Canada and Chile to Japan and Australia, into a web of common rules governing trans-Pacific commerce. It is the capstone both of his economic agenda to expand exports and of his foreign policy “rebalance” toward closer relations with fast-growing eastern Asia, after years of American preoccupation with the Middle East and North Africa.
What’s next? The U.S. Trade Representative will now work out the final language in detail. Once that is completed, President Obama is required to tell Congress that he intends to sign the agreement in 90 days. The document will then be available for the public to scrutinize. Sometime in January, the president will be able to sign the TPP, but he cannot submit enabling legislation to Congress for another 30 days after signing.
So, no sooner than February, he could use his “fast-track authority” to get the deal set for a vote. Passage only requires a simple majority, and the agreement cannot be amended or filibustered. TPP supporters in Congress, dominated by Republicans, might speed the whole process through before the election grabs everybody’s attention.
But that process could be held up if the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees decide to propose changes before the enabling legislation is submitted. And those proposals for changes won’t come solely from Democrats. The final concessions produced an outcome that irked certain corporate interests. For instance, Republicans “have warned that provisions on tobacco, currency policy and high-tech medicines that fly in the face of congressional directives could lead them to oppose the long-awaited agreement.” That could cost Republican votes on the agreement. Thus, committee proposals as well as requests for additional information could mean there will be no congressional vote until after the November 2016 election.
The war of words over the agreement is well underway.
For example, 14 former Democratic governors, including Jim Doyle of Wisconsin, Christine Grigoire of Washington and Bill Richardson of New Mexico, signed a letter Tuesday in support of the TPP:
As Democratic leaders of states throughout the country, we’ve seen firsthand how a strong manufacturing base drives competitiveness and growth across our economy. The TPP will support American manufacturing jobs by phasing out all tariffs on American manufactured goods, like Vietnam’s 70% and Malaysia’s 30% foreign tax on US-made cars and trucks. The TPP will also reduce non-tariff trade barriers to create increased export opportunities for American produced goods like tractors and cutting-edge textiles. And the TPP opens massive market access for American manufacturers to the projected 3.2 billion middle class consumers living in Asia by 2030.We believe in confronting the critical challenge of protecting our planet – and the TPP puts environmental provisions at its core, taking advantage of a historic opportunity to slow and stop illegal fishing, deforestation, and endangered wildlife trafficking. In addition to adding teeth to the enforcement of vital new environmental conservation obligations, the TPP improves accessibility to green technologies by eliminating tariffs on solar panels, wind turbines, wastewater treatment systems, air pollution control equipment, and air and water quality analyzers.
Many supporters and opponents argue that TPP was a done deal the instant fast-track authority was granted last spring. They may well be right. But that doesn’t mean the foes of the 12-nation agreement will roll over easily.
Among the foes is Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has long opposed the pact. He reiterated his opposition Monday when the agreement in principle was announced: “Wall Street and other big corporations have won again. It is time for the rest of us to stop letting multi-national corporations rig the system to pad their profits at our expense.”
Other opponents of the TPP also made their voices heard Monday:
“This summer, U.S. lawmakers took unprecedented action to set a clear negotiating objective for addressing currency manipulation in all future trade deals,” said Ziad Ojakli, Ford’s vice president for government and community relations.“The TPP fails to meet that test.”
“The deal announced today is the result of negotiations between corporate interests and trade representatives, which ignored the voices of working families in all twelve countries. While details are still emerging, we are concerned the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will destroy jobs and depress wages, threaten health and safety standards, harm our air, land and water, and make it harder for patients to access life-saving drugs.“This deal is not ‘the most progressive trade deal ever.’ There is no indication that TPP will force countries with lax labor laws to improve their working conditions or standards. That means Americans will compete with workers who earn less than a dollar an hour. The deal also threatens the jobs of working families by supplementing protections against currency manipulators that undermine American exports, with an unenforceable side-deal.
“Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) expresses its dismay that TPP countries have agreed to United States government and multinational drug company demands that will raise the price of medicines for millions by unnecessarily extending monopolies and further delaying price-lowering generic competition. The big losers in the TPP are patients and treatment providers in developing countries. Although the text has improved over the initial demands, the TPP will still go down in history as the worst trade agreement for access to medicines in developing countries, which will be forced to change their laws to incorporate abusive intellectual property protections for pharmaceutical companies.
“From what we know, the draft TPP threatens the future of production and employment. It compromises the so-called 21st century standards that were supposed to form the foundation for this agreement. It will deal a critical blow to workers and their standard of living in the United States.“Although the final text has not been made available and will contain some new bells and whistles; from what we have seen and know, at its core the hastily concluded TPP deal will simply continue today’s outdated, disastrous approach to trade.
“This TPP deal shouldn’t even be submitted to Congress and, if it is, it should be quickly rejected.
“Despite widespread, international opposition, the United States government is moving toward signing a trade deal that threatens our families, our communities, and our environment.“Amazingly, the public is still not able to see the contents of a completed pact that has been negotiated entirely behind closed doors. But we know enough about the pact to understand that, if passed, it would undermine decades of environmental progress and threaten our climate. The Trans-Pacific Partnership would empower big polluters to challenge climate and environmental safeguards in private trade courts and would expand trade in dangerous fossil fuels that would increase fracking and imperil our climate. The TPP’s environment chapter might look nice on the surface but will be hollow on the inside, and history gives us no reason to believe that TPP rules on conservation challenges such as the illegal timber or wildlife trade will ever be enforced.
“Congress must stand up for American jobs, clean air and water, and a healthy climate and environment by rejecting the Trans-Pacific Partnership.”
World Wildlife Federation Carter Roberts sees the agreement more positively but still has serious concerns:
“No major trade agreement before this one has gone so far to address growing pressures on natural resources like overexploited fish, wildlife and forests. […]For the agreement to be a useful tool in addressing the Pacific region’s tremendous conservation challenges, each nation will need to take on ambitious measures to effectively comply with their TPP obligations. “At present, countries don’t do enough to prohibit the trade in illegal wildlife as well as other illegal products obtained from forests and oceans. The TPP could mark real progress on conserving wildlife, fisheries and forests, but the member countries need to go beyond good words and intentions in the agreement to support and implement effective environmental protections as TPP requires.
“We will continue to work with the White House and Congress to ensure TPP includes mechanisms for strong implementation and enforcement of the deal’s conservation obligations. Legal and procedural reforms need to be enacted in many TPP countries before the agreement comes into force, for example, strong national measures to prohibit wildlife trafficking. “It’s worth pointing out the TPP does not explicitly address climate change, one of the greatest challenges of our time.
“The TPP was written behind closed doors, the text should be released immediately, and it will mean fewer jobs and lower wages for American workers. The only beneficiaries of this deal will be global corporations, as Americans will be forced to compete with Vietnamese workers making less than 60 cents an hour, and with countries notorious for lax environmental and labor standards. While those that believe these are good things have strong-armed negotiators into leaving Atlanta with a deal, we are positive that the American people and those that represent them in Congress will reject it.”
(Originally appeared at DailyKos. Image AFGE-CC)