Business leaders announce support for TPP

A group of the nation's chief executives is endorsing a sweeping Asia-Pacific trade agreement, calling on Congress to pass the pact this year.

The Business Roundtable announced support Tuesday for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) saying it is a “significant” agreement that will open foreign markets and create U.S. jobs.

BRT President John Engler told The Hill on Monday that the group wants a vote as soon as possible this year and as early as the April-June quarter — before the presidential primaries ramp up and Congress leaves for the summer.

Trying to pass the expansive TPP in a lame-duck session — after a new president is elected — is fraught with complications, he said.

“They should get it done earlier and avoid that aggravation,” Engler said.

Business groups have been divided over the TPP, and the Roundtable is also calling for the administration to address "issues" in the deal that could withhold business support.

“We are urging the administration to quickly address the remaining issues that impact certain business sectors in order to ensure the broadest possible benefits to all sectors of U.S. business, which will enable the broadest support possible for the TPP,” said Tom Linebarger, chairman and CEO of Cummins Inc. and chairman of the BRT’s international engagement committee.

Engler said that businesses are concerned high-tech drugs known as biologics are getting less than the 12 years of intellectual property protections set in the United States by the healthcare law. The TPP provides up to eight years as part of an agreement to placate countries like Australia that said longer terms would push up drug prices and make many unaffordable.

U.S. Trade Representative Michael FromanMichael B.G. FromanUS will investigate aluminum imports as national security hazard Overnight Finance: WH floats Mexican import tax | Exporters move to back GOP tax proposal | Dems rip Trump adviser's Goldman Sachs payout Froman heads to Council on Foreign Relations MORE has argued that the biologics provision was the most difficult issue of the TPP negotiation and can't be changed without torpedoing the deal with the other TPP partners. 

"We're urging the administration to keep working," Engler said. "We think the administration is working hard on these issues and will be successful. They need to be successful."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate tees up Yemen vote for Tuesday Senate confirms Trump's border chief House leaves out ObamaCare fix from must-pass funding bill MORE (R-Ky.) last month pointed to opposition to the deal in arguing that the administration should not send it to Congress before the 2016 elections.

McConnell and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchSenate GOP: Legislation to protect Mueller not needed Week ahead: Lawmakers scramble to avoid another shutdown Lighthizer set to testify before Senate Finance on trade next week MORE (R-Utah) have stopped well short of embracing the deal. They each have referenced the biologics issue as well as a provision affecting tobacco as among the most controversial parts of the agreement.

While Engler said the business lobbying is ramping up its efforts to get the agreement passed, he expects congressional leaders and the White House to work closely together toward deciding when to hold votes.

Nailing down a time frame, he said, would help in rounding up support for the TPP agreement.

Despite the issues, Engler expects more support for the TPP than trade promotion authority, which Congress passed last summer with only 28 Democrats in the House. Fast-track procedures don't allow lawmakers any amendments and only an up-or-down vote in each chamber. 

“The TPP is a trade agreement for the modern, global economy that includes provisions related to digital commerce and trade in services, fair competition with state-owned enterprises, intellectual property rights and investment protections  and labor and environmental standards," Linebarger said. 

The BRT is the second major business group this week to announce support for the 12-nation TPP deal. The National Association of Manufacturers said Monday it would support the agreement despite concerns over several issues.

Business support is critical to the TPP’s chances to move through Congress, especially in a presidential election year.  

Last month, the National Foreign Trade Council and the American Farm Bureau Federation each said they would support the TPP.

“Our members recognize that the rest of the world is not sitting still," said Bob Stallman, president of the Farm Bureau.

“Other countries are trying to set trading rules in their own best interest. This agreement goes a long way in establishing a much more level playing field for our nation’s farmers and ranchers.”