Trans-Pacific Partnership in the Balance
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Trans-Pacific Partnership in the Balance


Asserting that the U.S. “cannot afford to stand on the sidelines of trade,” U.S. Vice President Joe Biden penned an op-ed in the Financial Times on Thursday laying out the economic and strategic case for the Obama Administration’s current trade agenda. His comments are part of a larger effort happening in public and behind the scenes as the Administration pushes for the conclusion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in the face of opposition from its own party.

Following Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s public denial of the Obama Administration’s request for Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) and the departure of the bill’s primary Democratic sponsor, then-Senator Max Baucus (the new U.S. Ambassador to China), it looked like domestic political considerations had postponed the trade agenda indefinitely. Trade agreements are an unpopular issue for much of the Democratic base and, with the 2014 elections already shaping up as a tough cycle for Democrats in the Senate, many assumed the Majority Leader was seeking to prevent a potentially divisive vote until at least after Election Day.

In spite of this, U.S. Trade Representative Mike Froman has continued to meet with key partners in Congress and outside advocacy groups while maintaining a full schedule of meetings with TPP partner nations, some of whom might be tempted to use the current U.S. domestic disagreements as an excuse to drag their heels on outstanding issues.

In mid-February, Froman met with Japan’s Minister of State for Economic and Fiscal Policy to address the “differences between the United States and Japan on agriculture and other market access and rules issues.” The current impasse between Washington and Tokyo stems from a lack of market access for U.S. automobiles and several agriculture products that Japan deems “sensitive.” While both parties expressed optimism at the conclusion of these meetings, it is unlikely that the Abe government will make any politically unpopular concessions without a guarantee from the U.S. that the TPP will see a vote in Congress before the election cycle effectively halts Congress’s legislative agenda later this year.

Froman followed up these talks with a speech at the left-leaning Center for American Progress three days later that framed the trade agenda as a pro-exports effort to ensure labor and environmental standards. Unions and environmental groups, which have otherwise largely supported Obama Administration initiatives, have criticized the Trade Representative’s negotiations over concerns that the TPP will accelerate the “offshoring” of U.S. manufacturing jobs while providing no new international environmental protections.

His comments, which also touched on the need for TPA and announced the creation of a new “Public Interest Trade Advisory Committee,” were intended to allay fears among members of the Administration’s own party regarding the pending free trade agreements. While acknowledging that “Advances in technology and automation, combined with the continued pace of globalization, have increased pressure on wages and the sense that there are fewer opportunities for working Americans,” he went on to contend that “trade, done right, is part of the solution, not part of the problem.”

This push continued with a late-February trip to Singapore for the latest round of negotiations between the Ministers and Heads of Delegation for all TPP countries. Though no details were released regarding the specifics of what was accomplished or what issues remain, the leaders expressed commitment to the process and highlighted agreement “on the majority of the landing zones.”

Froman will conclude this whirlwind two weeks by meeting with Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) tomorrow, a key moderate Democrat in the Senate whose support for Trade Promotion Authority will be instrumental to its passage once a vote does come up. This outreach is part of a broader effort by the Office of the United States Trade Representative to educate Members of Congress and their staff on the status of the negotiations and the role of Congress in the process that has seen the USTR participate in more than 1,150 meetings and consultations to date.

While the timeline for a vote on TPA remains unclear, the recent public moves by Biden and Froman indicate that the Administration has not given up on pressing for a timely conclusion to the TPP and is in fact probably pushing the agenda more than certain corners of its party would like. Whether this initiative will be effective remains to be seen. However, the Administration’s good faith effort ensures that prospective partner nations in the TPP share in this sense of urgency and continue work to identify outstanding “landing zones” as quickly as possible. Though a follow-up to the February’s Singapore round was not announced, Obama’s trip to Asia in April is widely seen as the next significant deadline for the TPP.

John VerWey is a Program Assistant at the American Enterprise Institute.

March 3, 2014 at 10:33

Now they will need another one with Ukraine.

Without finances, Ukraine is fast falling into anarchy. It must be salvaged before it disintegrates and strategic parts fall in to Russian hands. It is a worthy investment in Europe. $35 billion needed immediately.

March 3, 2014 at 13:02

Better yet, Obama should invite Ukraine to be the 51st state of the U.S. I think the offer will be accepted, even by the ethnic Russians and Tartars.

March 3, 2014 at 06:41

Based on certain leaks, it’s more like a way for corporations (American ones, and to an extent, Japanese ones) to have enough power to even challenge the governments of member nations, let alone have the absolute upper hand in economics and trade.
It kind of makes sense though, the US has found a no better region to do it in. It used to be Latin America, but they’re rejecting it now (Bolivarian Movement).

Michael Guy
March 2, 2014 at 15:40

“Let them eat cake” This what the Jacobin propagandist claimed was Marie Antoinette’s haughty rely when she was told, “The peasants have no bread”. Your President and your Congress are preparing a similar arrogant reply for the American citizens. Only in this case it is, “The peasants have no jobs”. You will hear that often after the Trans Pacific Partnership Treaty is enacted and foisted upon the American people. Look at the decimation of industry and labor by the NAFTA, WTO, Chinese Most Favored Nation, GATT and the other “free trade” treaties. The results are increased national debt compounded by increased trade imbalance. With every global, Free Trade treaty, jobs, wages, benefits etc. decline while a few plutocratic lords benefit by this, much like the English barons benefited as they confiscated the agricultural products of Ireland in 1848 and sold these crops in international trade.

But rest assured, we will hear the same propaganda from the Democratic “friends of the working man”. Union presidents will be asked by the President and the Democratic senators to tow the line, trying to convince their dwindling membership, that purported increased in exports will mean greater union jobs. Their rhetoric of “solidarity” will be as credible as the Kiss of Judas. Jeremy Bentham once described the “good as that which gives the greatest amount of number of people” By that Utilitarian definition, our trade treaties only benefit the economic elite and the politicians in their pay.

The Republican “friends of small business” will likewise be full of bombast and B.S, telling us “the American worker can out-compete anyone in the world”. Your multi-national, capitalist plutocrats don’t seem think believe you, even though they will invest millions into your various campaigns as well. Factories will move where wages and taxes are cheaper, where rules and where regulations like health care and EPA rulings are non-existent.

Politician and bureaucrats who live luxuriously and are guaranteed lucrative retirement and benefit packages. And that does not count the bi-partisan K Street contributions that will insure their family will live in luxury for generations. But look at it this way, If I Work for Benedict Arnold Industries, but my employer shuts down the mill, mine or factory where I work because of the EPA or Free Trade,then opens operations overseas, I am in poverty. So are my fellow workers. So are the merchants who provide goods and services we can no longer afford. If some so called American multinational companies, especially those in the banking industry benefit, while millions of workers loose their jobs, where is the benefit? Sure many of us will find “newly created”, lower paying jobs, with lesser or no benefits. And we know, despite all that “re-educate yourselves and find a new career’ rhetoric, our path to poverty and the peasantry was done by the Democratic and Republican politicians who betrayed their fellow citizens, and for thirty pieces of silver , endorsed these trade agreements.

Michael Guy

Drive by
March 2, 2014 at 12:01

Even Democrats oppose the TPP now. It won’t get fast-track. That means the Congress will get time to really understand what TPP is: a rule book for undermining national sovereignty and establishing corporation rule.

TPP will be dead on arrival. Long live the TPP!

March 2, 2014 at 07:16

The current TPP excludes Taiwan, PR China, India and surprisingly, S. Korea.

Which means it is increasingly looking like a trading bloc of nations aligned against the PRC with the exception of India and Russia.

March 2, 2014 at 22:40

Korea already has FTAs with most Pacific trading nations (except Japan and Mexico). However, as 95% of exports from Korea and Japan compete head-on, TPP may create risks for Korea by negating the effects of the hard won FTAs. But with growing opposition in the U.S. and a lame duck president, TPP should fail.

March 3, 2014 at 18:49

Don’t think TPP as a usual trading partnership. TPP covers more than agriculture and electronic, like insurance, law, investing, and medical/pharmaceutical. It is designed by the US to tap into 250 trillion dollars of Japanese savings, and Japan is refusing after what the US has done with the FTA with Korea, with fishy agreements like ISD (Investor State Dispute) and the Ratchet rule. Japan is not that stupid.

March 4, 2014 at 07:41

Don’t you mean 250 trillion taiwan dollars in savings? Heck, even that seems a bit much. Why not add another couple zeros to your fantasy Japanese savings?

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