New trade battle looms on the horizon
President Obama’s prized fast-track authority is a done deal in Congress, but Washington is already steeling for the next major trade battle — this one over lawmakers’ approval of a sweeping Pacific Rim agreement.
Completion of talks in support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) could come as early as August, setting up a fall fight over ratification that is all but certain to spill into the 2016 presidential race.
Congress wrapped up the first phase of the trade fight this week, giving President Obama trade promotion authority, which strengthens his power to negotiate international deals and limits Congress’s sway over their contents.
Passage of the measure, a major win for Obama, has set off a race to complete the TPP, which would stretch from the Pacific Rim to Latin America.
U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman suggested this week that a deal could be ready this summer.
Akira Amari, Japan’s economy minister and New Zealand Trade Minister Tim Groser also said in recent days that they are aiming for completion by the August congressional recess, Reuters reported.
Even if the TPP is completed in next month or two it could take months to receive a final vote on Capitol Hill with several legislative clocks built into slowing the process.
A new trigger in the fast-track legislation gives the Obama administration 30 days to publicly release the text of the TPP. The agreement must undergo 60 days of public scrutiny before the president can sign the deal at the 90-day mark.
That process can’t be accelerated meaning the clock for congressional action may not start until November.
But before that process starts, negotiators need to finish work on the massive Asia-Pacific deal then send it to Congress where it is likely to face of flurry of opposition from labor unions and environmental groups, which are already ramping up their campaigns to stop it.
Myron Brilliant, head of international affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said clearance of fast-track trade authority should provide impetus to the 11 other nations involved in the trade talks to put their best deals on the table.
Brilliant cautioned that there are still “sticky and difficult” outstanding issues that shouldn’t be taken lightly, including market access agreements with Canada’s dairy protections and the opening of the auto and agriculture sectors within Japan.
But he said there seems to be confidence among U.S. trade officials that the countries are close to resolving the remaining issues, which also include intellectual property protections and guidelines for state-owned enterprises.
“What the votes on trade this past few weeks show us is to get TPP through Congress we need a strong market-opening agreement that has robust support of industries across every sector,” Linda Dempsey, vice president of international affairs at the National Association of Manufacturers.
While the far-reaching agreement would lower tariffs across many products for U.S. exporters, it also would set new rules on everything from labor and environmental standards to pharmaceuticals like new biologic drugs.
Still, Bill Lane, Caterpillar’s director of global affairs, said that if a final deal is slow to develop this summer the next place to look is to a November Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in Manila — a summit the majority of TPP country leaders are expected to attend.
He said that is probably the latest a deal would be completed and would easily push the debate over the TPP into 2016.
“While we’re optimistic that TPP will be done soon we’re always mindful that most trade negotiators and lobbyists get paid by the hour,” Lane told The Hill.
The longer negotiators take to wrap up a deal, the deeper the contentious trade debate gets pushed into the middle of the race for the White House.
Brilliant called the idea that trade deals can’t get done during election years “hogwash.”
“There’s never is an ideal moment for a trade bill,” Brilliant said. “But this is an area where the president and congressional leadership are aligned,” he said.
Not to be forgotten is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership that is being furiously worked on, as well, with European leaders knowing they will have to pick up the pace or face trade debate in a presidential election year.
Beside the United States, Japan and Canada, the deal includes Malaysia, Vietnam, Australia, Mexico, Peru, Brunei, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore.
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