President Obama is expected to soon travel to Beijing to participate in the leaders’ summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. This meeting offers the president a golden opportunity to announce his support for enactment of “Trade Promotion Authority” or TPA during the “lame duck” session of Congress over the next two months. TPA is the necessary ingredient that must precede successful conclusion of both the Tran-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations. Absent TPA, which allows a simple Congressional up-or-down vote on those trade agreements, no country will conclude either agreement with the US for fear Congress will rewrite their carefully negotiated provisions. If TPA does not happen by early next year, all the work that has gone into TPP and TTIP will be for naught. It’s that simple. 

Both TPP and TTIP have been stalled this year by a lack of White House commitment to enact TPA, due to a January agreement made – implicitly or otherwise – betweenObama and Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidSchumer becomes new Senate majority leader Biden faces tall order in uniting polarized nation Senators vet Mayorkas to take lead at DHS MORE (D-Nev.) in order to avoid an awkward vote for vulnerable Senate Democrats leading up to the election. Whatever the outcome of the election, once we are past it, that impediment will no longer exist. If the Democrats lose control of the Senate as now seems a distinct possibility, they should be further incentivized to give their President the power to conclude a deal that has their imprint in areas important to them, including labor and environmental standards, while they can. 


But, the president needs to make a forceful and compelling public and private pitch for TPA to reassure hesitant international interlocutors who are unwilling to make politically difficult concessions to the US until they see that he is serious and committed to concluding TTP and TTIP during his Administration. Elected European officials continue to support TTIP.  German Chancellor Merkel has often stated that TTIP is “one of the most effective growth stimulators that anyone can imagine”, and that the U.S. and European economies could be boosted by $ 100 billion each year.  At the same time, activists in Europe have become more organized and have succeeded in raising questions about TTIP, which is reflected in public opinion polls. The mounting pressure on elected public officials is threatening to drain their enthusiasm and support for TTIP while the European business community is struggling to match the anti-TTIP campaign with positive messages.    A strong message regarding TPA from the president could help reassure our allies in Europe that TTIP is an important joint initiative.  The president also needs to corral at least some Democratic votes in Congress that can only be won by his active involvement, which so far, has been lacking. 

In either event, 2015 will be the year to conclude TPP and at least make important progress on TTIP, but only if the president seizes the opportunity. Whoever controls the Senate, few believe he can successfully legislate on domestic issues over the next two years. But, if he pivots from his current complacency and eagerly embraces these trade agreements, he could leave a deep and lasting impact and shape broad US policies across many sectors of the economy for generations to come. 

TTIP, for example, represents half the world’s economy and nearly a third of global trade. It will not only impact trade rules between the EU and US, but has the potential to shape a common regulatory framework that will set a standard for worldwide regulations on auto emissions and safety standards, for example. These agreements constitute the most ambitious trade agenda in at least a generation and would cement the president’s standing as an effective and visionary leader. 

But, this will only happen if he shakes off his lethargy and launches an aggressive campaign to win TPA, TPP and TTIP. We know he can win tough political campaigns. It remains to be seen if he has the resolve to build a solid, bipartisan legacy by working with both Republicans and Democrats to build a trade framework that locks in America’s position as a leader of world commerce. By exercising those leadership qualities, Obama could enable us 25 years from now to celebrate a bipartisan free-trade legacy, just as we are celebrating today the 25th anniversary of such major bipartisan legislation as the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 and the Americans with Disabilities Act.  

Our country can either lead the world to a rules-based and mutually prosperous future or allow others with less benign motives to take up the mantle of leadership and shape the world to their advantage. The APEC meeting presents the first post-election test for the president. Let’s hope he passes it. 

Peckham is managing director of Prime Policy Group and Schmitz is a partner at Bingham McCutchen LLP and was deputy counsel to President George HW Bush.