Next steps on trade

Fol­low­ing a win in Congress, Mr. Obama must strike a fair bar­gain with Asian part­ners.

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION -

AF­TER MONTHS of bruis­ing po­lit­i­cal strug­gle, Congress has passed the trade pro­mo­tion au­thor­ity bill that Pres­i­dent Obama re­quested. Mr. Obama’s sig­na­ture on it will em­power his ne­go­tia­tors to cut the most ad­van­ta­geous trade agree­ments pos­si­ble with 11 other coun­tries in the Pa­cific Rim be­cause all par­ties now know that the fi­nal deal can­not be un­done by amend­ments or a fil­i­buster in Congress.

That fact alone is worth cel­e­brat­ing, but Mr. Obama can take pride in the all-out ef­fort he waged on be­half of the bill, as well as his ef­fec­tive part­ner­ship with Repub­li­cans such as Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell (R-Ky.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and a small but com­mit­ted mi­nor­ity of Democrats on the Hill. Those who would fault Mr. Obama for lack­ing per­sis­tence or the abil­ity to work with Congress must ac­knowl­edge that their crit­i­cisms do not ap­ply in this case. Ditto for those who con­sider Washington ir­re­triev­ably dys­func­tional.

In push­ing for the bill, Mr. Obama ab­sorbed a po­lit­i­cal beat­ing from the core con­stituen­cies of his Demo­cratic Party, which ac­cused him, un­jus­ti­fi­ably, of selling out Amer­i­can work­ers in the in­ter­est of multi­na­tional cor­po­rate prof­its. His will­ing­ness to stand up to this crit­i­cism for­ti­fies hopes that the Great Re­ces­sion of 2008 will not lead to a global wave of pro­tec­tion­ism, like the one that ac­com­pa­nied, and ex­ac­er­bated, the Great De­pres­sion. Mr. Obama’s per­for­mance also sets an ex­am­ple for lead­ers of the other coun­tries in the pro­posed Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship, es­pe­cially Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe of Ja­pan, who has al­ready taken po­lit­i­cal risks just to join the TPP talks and will have to take more to fi­nal­ize a deal.

Press­ing Ja­pan to open its chron­i­cally closed mar­kets is just one of the key United States TPP goals that the pas­sage of trade pro­mo­tion au­thor­ity will fa­cil­i­tate. Oth­ers in­clude en­sur­ing that the pact’s pro­posed in­vestor dis­pute set­tle­ment sys­tem ad­e­quately pro­tects U.S. reg­u­la­tions from un­jus­ti­fi­able lit­i­ga­tion, that the in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty rights of Amer­i­can drug mak­ers are pro­tected with due con­sid­er­a­tion for the health needs of the poorer TPP coun­tries and that the pact truly pro­motes more open­ness in Viet­nam, both po­lit­i­cal and com­mer­cial. If those con­sid­er­a­tions can be dealt with, then the United States should reap ben­e­fits both eco­nomic and strate­gic; the TPP prom­ises to knit the United States and East Asia closer to­gether, on pro-Amer­i­can terms.

The fact that the op­po­nents of trade pro­mo­tion au­thor­ity wildly ex­ag­ger­ated their con­cerns does not mean that they had no le­git­i­mate qualms; any time Congress turns over this much au­thor­ity to the ex­ec­u­tive branch, there’s a risk the pres­i­dent will use it un­wisely, or con­trary to the law­mak­ers’ wishes. If Mr. Obama’s team does in­deed fail at the bar­gain­ing ta­ble, de­spite its new pow­ers, then Congress will have an op­por­tu­nity to vote the deal down. We hope and ex­pect, how­ever, that the ad­min­is­tra­tion will suc­ceed.

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