US Chamber announces support for TPP

US Chamber announces support for TPP
© Greg Nash

TThe U.S. Chamber of Commerce is throwing its weight behind President Obama's Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade agreement between the United States and 11 other nations.

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But the Chamber's endorsement comes with conditions.

The business group — like others announcing support before it — wants the Obama administration to work with them and Congress to address concerns about the completed deal that range from intellectual property to financial services.

Thomas Donohue, the Chamber’s president and CEO, said that “no trade agreement is perfect, and the TPP is no exception.”

“We strongly encourage the‎ Obama ‎administration to work with Congress to address legitimate concerns expressed by industry and legislators to achieve the highest possible standards for American workers and businesses,” Donohue said.

The Chamber is the third business group to offer support for the deal this week, joining the National Association of Manufacturers and the Business Roundtable, and all are pressing the White House to consider changes to the agreement to ensure its passage through Congress.

Chamber officials acknowledge the difficulty in reworking parts of the massive agreement but argue that addressing those issues is crucial to getting enough support in Congress to pass the agreement.  

Yet business groups point to the precedent set by bilateral agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia, which all underwent significant changes before passing Congress in October 2011.

Administration officials have argued that tugging the string of one provision could unravel the entire deal before Congress even gets a chance to take it up.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has raised serious concerns about the TPP deal and said it will probably have to wait for a vote until after the 2016 election or possibly even after Obama leaves office.

So far, the convergence of business support this week hasn't swayed McConnell to tweak that timeline.

A Senate aide told The Hill they expect to see the White House quickly ramp up engagement with Congress to resolve the outstanding issues and give TPP a better chance to pass this year.

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said the slew of business support "underscores the need for the U.S. to lead, not sit on the sidelines, at this critical moment."

“Working with congressional leaders, we will continue to work for passage of TPP as soon as possible to ensure that the economic benefits these endorsements cite are not delayed," Froman said.

Although the Chamber didn't set a time frame to complete the deal — BRT is urging Congress to pass an agreement this year — the group acknowledged that waiting too long put the United States in a position to fall behind other countries, including China, which are feverishly inking trade agreements.

A U.S. official told The Hill that businesses are harnessing their power in the first week of the new year because they “increasingly realize that the cost to the U.S. economy of delaying TPP will be billions of dollars lost to our foreign competitors."

The Chamber also moved beyond ratification of the agreement by Congress.

The powerful business group said that TPP’s benefits can only be realized if the deal is properly "interpreted, implemented and enforced" and that the Chamber will “see this job through to the end — to the agreement’s entry-into-force and beyond."

“With that in mind, we’re rolling up our sleeves to work with the administration, Congress and our TPP partners to ensure the agreement is implemented in a way that maximizes its commercial benefits, including market access, rules and intellectual property protections,” Donohue said.

Text for the TPP was released in November, and Donohue said Wednesday's decision follows a thorough review and deliberation by the chamber's members and board of directors.

The delay also reflects wider misgivings over the deal among businesses, which have been divided over its merits.

A Chamber official said the bid to ratify TPP is the "beginning of a marathon" and right now any movement forward is closely linked to the timetable set by the trade promotion authority law passed last summer.

The earliest the TPP deal can be signed is Feb. 3. All 12 trade ministers are expected to gather together at some point next month to sign the deal.

A TPP implementing bill could potentially be ready for delivery to Capitol Hill sometime this spring but congressional leaders and administration officials have both said that they will work together on that timing.  

Sending the agreement to Congress too early could doom it to failure if the votes aren’t in place, especially in the House where the margin of error is razor thin and made more complicated by presidential election year politics.

“You want to be very sure before you send the bill to Capitol Hill,” said Bill Reinsch, president of the National Foreign Trade Council, which supports TPP.

“Once the wheels are turning it’s complicated to turn them off,” he said. 

This story was updated at 3:30 p.m.