Obama makes last push for TPP
WASHINGTON — His successor, whether Democrat or Republican, opposes it, as does most of his party. Delegates at the Democratic National Convention waved signs saying “TPP” slashed by a bold line, while the Republican Party platform opposed any vote on it in Congress this year.
Yet United States President Barack Obama is readying one final push for approval of the Trans-pacific Partnership, the largest regional trade agreement ever, between the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim nations. And though the odds may be long, a presidency defined by partisan stalemate may yet secure one last legacy — only because of Mr Obama’s delicate alliance with the Republicans who control Congress.
“Both parties have candidates who have very strong rhetoric against trade,” said Representative Kevin Brady, Republican of Texas and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which is responsible for trade. “Nonetheless, we can’t grow America’s economy unless we’re not merely buying American but selling American all throughout the globe.”
Still, he added, timing a vote “is absolutely dependent on support for the agreement.”
Although the administration’s push will begin in September, no vote on the accord will occur before the election. Just as the White House and congressional Republican leaders mostly agree on the economic benefits of trade, they have parallel political interests in delaying debate.
Republicans do not want to provoke attacks from their presidential nominee, Donald J. Trump, who called the trade accord “a rape of our country,” or hurt other Republican candidates.
Mr Obama does not want to make trouble for the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, who has struggled to persuade voters of her sincerity in switching from support of the pact to opposition.
This month, during an economic address in Michigan, she declared, “I oppose it now, I’ll oppose it af- ter the election and I’ll oppose it as president.”
Yet the administration does not plan to be silent or forfeit hopes for a postelection vote.
Mr Obama, who advocated the trade accord in a pre-vacation news conference, will rejoin the debate during an early September trip to Asia. Cabinet officials will fan out to promote the agreement, which would end 18 000 tariffs and other nontariff barriers that Japan, Australia and the other nations have against American imports and services, and set new rules for labor and environmental practices.
While administration officials and bipartisan surrogates will counter opponents’ economic arguments, a big focus will be on national security. Mr Obama has emphasized that the pact would expand American influence in the Asia-pacific region as a counterweight to China, which is not part of the pact.
Last week, with families making back-to-school purchases, the lobbying association for footwear companies circulated a report concluding that Americans could save $4 billion on children’s shoes if TPP takes effect and cuts tariffs on imports from Vietnam and elsewhere.
Environmental and labour groups have been active, too, holding “Rock against the TPP” concerts in several cities and flying protest blimps outside lawmakers’ offices.
“Even the most ardent supporters of the bill, which would include us, would say, ‘Please don’t put a bill on the floor if you don’t have the votes,’” said Bill Miller, a vice president at the Business Roundtable.
“The parties have been working pretty well to get resolution, but they’re not there yet.”
Many Republicans and the tobacco industry object that the tobacco companies would be barred from using international trade tribunals to sue countries that restrict smoking.
More problematic is the complaint of Republicans, led by Mr Hatch, and the pharmaceutical in- dustry that the agreement would undercut drug makers’ intellectual property protections on the advanced drugs known as biologics.
The issue was the last to be settled among the T.P.P. countries in October; other nations demanded fewer years of protection, to hasten the production of less costly generics.
Mr Hatch, in a statement, also said he wanted to see written plans from the T.P.P. nations on how they would “abide by their commitments.”
The White House cannot afford to lose much support. The template vote is Congress’s narrow approval last year of a “fast track” law that cleared the way for final negotiations on the Pacific pact, by allowing an up-or-down vote without amendments that could unravel the agreement.
In the House, all 28 Democratic supporters remain on board, both sides say. While House Republicans have not counted yet whether they still have at least 190 votes for T.P.P., Mr Brady said, pro-trade Republicans “are in a good place” if the outstanding issues get resolved.
But the climate has shifted for the traditionally pro-trade party. A new poll from the Pew Research Center found that since May 2015 — just before Mr Trump began his campaign — the percentage of Republican and Republican-leaning voters with negative views of trade pacts increased 22 percentage points, to 61 percent.
What Is the Trans-pacific Partnership?
Largest regional trade pact in history, binding the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim countries representing about 40 percent of the global economy.
Would phase out tariffs and other trade barriers, and impose rules on commerce and labor, human rights and environmental standards.
Other parties: Canada, Mexico, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia.
The TPP would allow very competitive economies such as Vietnam to do more business with the US under the same privileges AGOA beneficiaries currently receive.