Left gathers forces for final push against TPP

Hill file photo
Opponents of President Obama's trade agenda believe they can marshall their forces to defeat the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), even as the finish line for the controversial agreement comes into view.

After losing a battle to stop fast-track legislation, liberal Democrats in the House are teaming up with labor unions and other allies in an effort to thwart the TPP through social media campaigns, protests on and around Capitol Hill, and regular briefings with reporters. 

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Trade ministers from the 12 nations negotiating the proposed accord are seeking to reach a final agreement in Maui, Hawaii by the end of the month, but are grappling with many unresolved questions. 

Among the topics at issue: Persistent concerns over labor practices in Peru; human trafficking in Malaysia; and workers’ rights in Vietnam and Mexico.

But even a final deal that all the countries are willing to sign could struggle to gather support in the U.S. Congress.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who has led the charge in the House against the deal, said the Obama administration is pushing too hard to get an agreement next week.

“It will be a tall order to get a deal finalized and signed by the end July,” she told reporters. 

“More importantly the agreement itself is riddled with problems,” she added. 

DeLauro ticked off a long list of reasons to oppose the agreement: the absence of effective measures to reduce currency manipulation and improve transparency; the lack of guarantees of market access; and question-marks over the enforcement of labor and environmental provisions.

“The issues are serious and need to be addressed and they won’t be addressed by the end of this month,” DeLauro said. 

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka this week flatly called Obama’s push to advance TPP  “wrong,” and pledged that he would resist the president “when he wants to take America in the wrong direction.” 

“It’ll hurt the American economy. It’ll hurt working families. And we’re going to beat it,” he told a Utility Workers convention in Florida. 

Even though Obama last month won the hard-fought battle to get fast-track authority for trade deals — over the opposition of the AFL-CIO and others — Trumka said the tide was turning in the left’s favor on the bigger battle for TPP itself. 

“Smart members of Congress are reconsidering this issue, and changing to the right side. And more are on the way,” he asserted. 

Lori Wallach, head of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, which opposes the deal, also believes her side will ultimately prevail.

“The Maui ministerial is viewed as a do-or-die moment to inject momentum into the TPP process,” she said. 

“But because the margin of passage for fast-track was so narrow, the Obama administration has little latitude to make concessions to get a deal.” 

Wallach said all the nations are desperate to announce a deal, or at least a breakthrough of some sort, next week. 

“The TPP-country negotiators are well past their worst-case-scenario deadlines and more than ready to be done,” she said.   

“But for many people in the TPP countries, a deal based on the current text would not be good news."

Such opinions are far from universal, of course. 

Many members of the business community see a deal emerging next week because fast-track, also known as Trade Promotion Authority or TPA, is in place.   

“With TPA in hand there are no more reasons for delay,” Tami Overby, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's senior vice president for Asia, told reporters at a briefing. 

“It’s time for each country to get serious and put their best and final offers on the table, so other partners can do the same and we can get the agreement done.” 

Congressional Democrats and Republicans have ramped up their letter-writing ahead of next week's talks, pointing to issues they deem crucial for their support. 

On Friday, all 15 House Ways and Means Committee Democrats sent a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, pressing him to ensure that the TPP doesn’t weaken public health efforts to reduce tobacco use.

In a separate letter to Froman, Reps. Earl Blumenauer (Ore.), Susan Davis (Calif.), Jim Himes (Conn.) and other House Democrats who voted for fast-track authority, pressed to ensure affordable access to medicines. 

"President Obama has said that the Trans-Pacific Partnership will be the most modern, progressive trade deal ever," Himes said. 

"We strongly encourage negotiators to find a balance between protecting the innovation and intellectual properties of companies who make significant investment and protecting the lives of those in desperate need of affordable treatments," he added.