Obama makes last push for TPP

Lesotho Times - - International -

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.

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