[A2k] FT: Obama delivers careful message on trade

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Wed Jan 29 03:50:16 PST 2014


http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/bf61f75a-88a1-11e3-bb5f-00144feab7de.html


January 29, 2014 5:22 am
Obama delivers careful message on trade

By James Politi in Washington

President Barack Obama
<http://www.ft.com/intl/topics/people/Barack_Obama> delivered
a carefully worded message on trade in his State of the Union speech on
Tuesday night, in the hope of sparking political momentum for negotiations
with the EU and 11 Asia-Pacific nations without annoying sceptical members
of his Democratic party.


Mr Obama said the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and
Investment Partnership<http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/191da83a-8775-11e3-ba87-00144feab7de.html>
-
key planks of his second-term international economic agenda - would help
generate new employment among small businesses seeking to export around the
world.

TPA - also known as "fast track" legislation - would make it much easier
for trade deals to pass Congress because they would not be susceptible to
amendments and they would move along an expedited timeline.


However, securing such a bill has been an uphill struggle for the Obama
administration, and that difficulty was underscored by the president's
remarks. He could have urged Congress to pass a bipartisan TPA bill that
was introduced this month by Max
Baucus<http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/fcc7adfe-7b9c-11e3-a2da-00144feabdc0.html>
and
Orrin Hatch, the top lawmakers on the Senate finance committee, and Dave
Camp, the top Republican on the House ways and means committee.


But rank-and-file Democrats have balked at the compromise, and Mr Baucus,
the main Democrat backing the bill, will soon be taking up the post of US
ambassador to Beijing. He will be replaced at the helm of the committee by
Ron Wyden, who may want to put his own stamp on the legislation.

Mr Obama only cited the need to "work" on TPA - a less forceful
endorsement, reflecting the expectation that there may have to be
substantial changes to the legislation in coming months. Nevertheless,
business groups supporting Mr Obama's trade negotiations appeared satisfied
with the message in the speech.


"We applaud the president's pledge to work with Congress to pass TPA
legislation and his remarks on the importance of advancing US trade
agreements to support American growth and jobs," said David Thomas,
vice-president at Business Roundtable, the chief lobbying group for large
US companies.


But Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, which is
opposing Mr Obama's efforts on trade, said the president did everything he
could to downplay the TPA bill.


"Corporate interests were fiercely lobbying for President Obama to dedicate
serious time in this speech to pushing Fast Track and the Trans-Pacific
Partnership in order to try to overcome broad congressional and public
opposition to both, but instead he made only a passing reference that
largely repeated his past statements," Ms Wallach said.


America's trading partners - particularly TPP countries and the EU - have
been closely watching the fate of TPA as they weigh up making further and
final concessions to wrap up the negotiations.


Progress on TPA would give them confidence that any agreement would not
have to be reopened in the face of congressional scepticism. If fast-track
legislation stalls in Congress it could jeopardise the conclusion of both
the TPP and EU deals.



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