Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship ac­cord faces hur­dles in po­ten­tial mem­ber coun­tries


U. S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s ad­min­is­tra­tion may be hail­ing the 12-na­tion Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship (TPP) free trade agree­ment as a his­toric vic­tory, but it is far from a done deal among some key play­ers, say an­a­lysts.

De­tails of Mon­day’s agree­ment are yet to be made public and on both sides of the Pa­cific, it still faces po­ten­tial hur­dles when skep­ti­cal leg­is­la­tors ex­am­ine its mer­its dur­ing a 90-day re­view and rat­i­fi­ca­tion process.

The TPP needs to sur­vive the United States leg­is­la­ture at a time when the po­lit­i­cal cli­mate could not be more com­pli­cated. Nearly ev­ery ob­server who spoke to The Straits Times pref­aced their re­marks with the same words: “If it passes Congress.”

Mean­while, Malaysia’s em­bat­tled Prime Min­is­ter Na­jib Razak will have to con­vince his MPs that the agree­ment would “en­sure Malaysia’s po­si­tions and in­ter­ests are safe­guarded,” as stressed by In­ter­na­tional Trade and In­dus­try Min­is­ter Mustapa Mo­hamed.

The Malaysian op­po­si­tion has re­peat­edly raised ques­tions over whether the deal ben­e­fits Malaysia, given con­cerns over steep pro­tec­tion of in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty, es­pe­cially the cost of medicine, the sta­tus of sta­te­owned en­ter­prises and gov­ern­ment pro­cure­ment in terms of pref­er­en­tial treat­ment for Malay and bu­mi­put­era com­mu­ni­ties.

Wan Sai­ful Wan Jan, head of pol­icy think tank Ideas, told The Straits Times that if the TPP be­came a source of con­tro­versy in Par­lia­ment, Na­jib would sac­ri­fice it if it en­dan­gered his lead­er­ship.

In Ja­pan, the signed treaty must be ex­am­ined by both houses of par­lia­ment, Ky­odo News re­ported, and bills will be de­lib­er­ated sep­a­rately if the con­tents of the TPP re­quire re­vi­sions to ex­ist­ing laws.

The gov­ern­ment is con­sid­er­ing hold­ing an ex­tra Diet ses­sion through early next year, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple close to the ad­min­is­tra­tion. A fail­ure to com­plete the nec­es­sary leg­isla­tive process dur­ing the ex­tra ses­sion could cause sev­eral months of de­lay.

The deal has be­come a po­lit­i­cally loaded sub­ject in Canada in the runup to tight Oct. 19 elec­tions. Prime Min­is­ter Stephen Harper’s ri­vals have raised con­cerns about open­ing Canada’s mostly closed dairy sec­tor and los­ing its sta­tus as a fa­vored sup­plier of auto parts to the U. S. auto in­dus­try, Agence- France Press re­ported.

Ma­jor Con­cerns Are Twofold

The main op­po­si­tion New Democrats say if they form the next gov­ern­ment, they will not feel bound by the TPP’s terms, Reuters re­ported.

In the U.S., where Pres­i­dent Obama has to give Congress 90 days’ no­tice of his in­ten­tion to sign the ac­cord, the ma­jor con­cerns are twofold.

First, the agree­ment comes amid op­po­si­tion Repub­li­can Party un­cer­tainty about the fu­ture of its lead­er­ship and, sec­ond, the vote on the deal will take place dur­ing the heat of a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion cam­paign.

Pa­trick Cronin, se­nior di­rec­tor

of the Asia-Pa­cific Se­cu­rity Pro­gram at the Cen­ter for a New Amer­i­can Se­cu­rity in Washington, stressed that ap­proval needs to hap­pen be­fore the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign be­gins in earnest.

Al­ready, the re­view pe­riod likely pushes the ear­li­est law­mak­ers can vote on it till af­ter the first pres­i­den­tial pri­maries in Fe­bru­ary.

“If they can’t pass it quickly, within a month of the end of the re­view pe­riod, it will lan­guish and peo­ple will pick at it, and it may not hap­pen un­til af­ter the elec­tion,” Cronin said.

The elec­tion year, he noted, can put par­tic­u­lar stress on a con­tro­ver­sial is­sue like this as politi­cians tend not to take risks.

“Even (for­mer sec­re­tary of state) Hil­lary Clin­ton, who ev­ery­body knows is re­ally in fa­vor of this, is es­sen­tially say­ing she is not,” he said.

The rel­a­tive se­crecy of ne­go­ti­a­tions thus far also means it is dif­fi­cult to pre­dict what el­e­ments of the deal could be­come a stum­bling block.

“To date, many mem­bers of Congress with spe­cific con­cerns and in­ter­ests in the TPP have had very lit­tle in­put into the ne­go­ti­a­tions, and the draft texts have not been shared with vot­ers, so the text, though agreed with the ne­go­ti­at­ing part­ners, faces close scru­tiny do­mes­ti­cally,” said Lisa Sachs, di­rec­tor of the Columbia Cen­ter on Sus­tain­able In­vest­ment at Columbia Univer­sity.

The op­po­si­tion of Sen­a­tor Or­rin Hatch, the Repub­li­can chair of the Se­nate Fi­nance Com­mit­tee, is also a wor­ry­ing sign for TPP sup­port in Congress.

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