Clock running out on Obama trade deals
PRESIDENT Barack Obama’s two most ambitious trade deals appear increasingly in trouble, victims of electoral politics at home and in Europe and a ticking clock on his administration.
Neither the Trans-Pacific Partnership nor the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is dead, but analysts say the hurdles to getting either completed by the end of Mr Obama’s term next January 20 are now almost insurmountable.
For the TPP, already negotiated with 11 other Pacific Rim countries and only needing ratification by the Congress, the political atmosphere has been soured with both current presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, pitching for votes, saying they are opposed to it.
As for the TTIP – a treaty with the entire European Union – negotiations are stuck on the toughest issues and European politicians are likewise declaring opposition.
French President Francois Hollande said last week that TTIP talks “will not lead to an agreement by the end of the year”, and his junior minister for trade Matthias Fekl called for an end to the talks.
And in Germany, vice chancellor and Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel said the talks “have de facto failed”.
While negotiators from both sides quickly responded that the talks were certainly alive and making progress, analysts said both the TTIP and the TPP would likely be stalled to 2018.
“The clock has basically run out,” said Gary Hufbauer, a trade expert at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.
“I agree more with the ‘more dead than alive’ camp in this debate,” he told AFP.
Not a big free trade advocate before his election in 2008, Mr Obama has pursued what he has called “trade deals for the 21st century”.
Each would dwarf any previous free trade treaty, going beyond cutting goods tariffs to establish rules governing data trade, investment rights, intellectual property rights and other issues.
Both deals were set up to be negotiated largely in secret and be presented to respective governments and legislatures as completed deals for up-or-down votes.
The 12 TPP countries reached agreement in October 2015, and the main challenge to implementing it is ratification by the US Congress.
But with opponents arguing that previous trade deals have cost US jobs, TPP has become a hot issue ahead of the US presidential election on November 8.
TTIP has not figured much in the US campaign, but last week’s comments show it will in the French and German elections next year.
Moreover, relative to the TPP, the TTIP talks have been rushed, and have been tripped up by Britain’s June vote to withdraw from the European Union, potentially removing a key US ally fromt he deal.
Mr Obama could drive his chief trade negotiator, Michael Froman, to finish a TTIP deal before he exits. But that could require big US compromises, which could create a political firestorm for his successor. –