Chamber's Donohue: TPP vote likely after the elections

Chamber's Donohue: TPP vote likely after the elections
© Greg Nash

A top U.S. business leader expects a vote on a massive Asia-Pacific trade agreement after the November elections.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue said Monday that election-year pressures will force the Senate to vote on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) during a lame-duck session to protect several vulnerable Republican incumbents.

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“It's going to be the closest vote for Senate in a long, long time, and there are four or five people that are running that are in the Republican caucus that would be at risk, perhaps, if they voted for it right now, today,” Donohue said during remarks in Hannover, Germany, on Monday. 

Donohue predicted that the House could vote sooner. 

"I would encourage that because it will be hard to cram two votes into a lame-duck [session]," he said. 

Business leaders have joined President Obama in Europe to bolster the relationship with the European Union as negotiators meet this week in New York for the next round of talks for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement. 

Donohue said he expects the trade deal between the U.S. and the European Union will move through Congress much more easily because of the strength of the long-standing relationship between the two trading partners.

“But it's going to take a while to get people here and people in the United States focused on doing not a half-baked bill but a really good trade agreement," he said.

"And I would hope that you'd see something happen there in the next 90 days."

Andrew Liveris, CEO of Dow Chemical, said that the TTIP is essential for the future of the U.S.-EU relationship, as is getting it through the agenda this year.  

"This is a comprehensive negotiation," Liveris said. "It means a lot of hard work."

President Obama, along with other European leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, had dinner with business leaders on Sunday night and made a push to get the TTIP agreement done before Obama leaves office, despite protests on both sides of the Atlantic.

The presidential election has put a spotlight on trade, with the most likely nominees delivering harsh critiques on free-trade agreements.

"In a tough economy, in an election year, nobody is in favor of trade," Donohue said.

But he emphasized that the pro-trade lobby needs only one vote to win.

"We don't care how many we win by, we only care that we win," he said.

The Chamber and the Obama administration are in discussions with Congress on building enough support to pass the TPP deal. 

Donohue said that the Chamber's members are spending a lot of time on Capitol Hill, and there are major efforts by chambers around the country.  

"We're letting them know what we think is important," he said about lawmakers.

"They can say what they have to say. They have to vote the way we need them to vote, and half of them can take a walk as long as we get two plus one." 

He said that the agreement is most favorable to agriculture and technology sectors and that he expects a fix for the pharmaceutical industry on intellectual property protections for high-tech drugs called biologics, but the deal won't be reopened for changes.

"We're not going to renegotiate it," Donohue said. "But the history of trade agreements is when you find it all, you’ve finished it and they write it all down and there are a few things we've got to fix," he said. "And that's the case here. I think you will see some of that."

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the White House is in talks with both parties on Capitol Hill about how to move the TPP forward.

"So I don't have details of those conversations to share, but we certainly are interested in working in bipartisan fashion on Capitol Hill to build bipartisan support for this agreement," Earnest said. "We certainly believe that it deserves it."

Earnest said discussions would continue with congressional leadership about the TPP process.

"It's not just about the process, but also on the substance," he said. "And there are a number of members of Congress who have demonstrated an interest in particular areas of the agreement."