Clock run­ning out on Obama trade deals

The Myanmar Times - - International Business -

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. –

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