[Ip-health] AP: Presidential campaign roils Obama’s free-trade plans

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Fri Apr 1 07:46:45 PDT 2016


By Kevin Freking | AP March 30

WASHINGTON — Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton agree on almost nothing.
Except for their dislike of a sweeping agreement that would erase most
tariffs and other trade barriers among the United States and 11 other

“Insanity,” Trump calls the deal. Democrat Bernie Sanders describes it as
“disastrous.” Clinton and Republican Ted Cruz have used less colorful
language, but ultimately opposed the pact. The final candidate still
standing in the GOP presidential primary, Ohio Gov. Josh Kasich, supports
the deal, but he is running a distant third.

All the bashing from the presidential candidates has created more
difficulties for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, one of President Barack
Obama’s top priorities in his final year in office.

Some Democratic supporters of the TPP have come around to Senate Majority
Leader Mitch McConnell’s position that it’s best to wait until after the
November elections to have a vote during a lame-duck session of Congress.

“I don’t think anyone wants to take it up in the lame duck if there aren’t
the votes for it, but I don’t see any chance of taking this up earlier than
that. That’s for sure,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va.

Groups working behind the scenes in support of the agreement said many
lawmakers are cautious about staking out a positon on TPP. Another big
challenge is the short legislative calendar as lawmakers spend more time at
home campaigning and less in Washington.

“Make no mistake the presidential campaign is a huge factor. It presents a
stream of challenges that’s difficult for a trade association to deal
with,” said John Murphy, a senior vice president at the U.S. Chamber of

While the trade pact is supposed to make products cheaper for consumers and
help level the playing field for exporters, opponents say it includes
giveaways to business lobbies and will cause downward pressure on wages and
job losses in some industries.

For the pact’s supporters, there’s a huge incentive to try to get something
done this year, knowing the next president will be hard-pressed to touch
the issue at first.

Congress approved legislation last year that allows TPP to be approved by a
simple majority without opportunities to amend it. The Obama administration
believes that coalition remains largely intact.

The real battle will be in the House, where last year’s fast-track
legislation passed by a narrow vote of 219-211. The administration is
hoping that business and agriculture groups can sustain Republican support
and limit any dropouts among the 28 House Democratic lawmakers who
supported fast-track trade legislation last year.

Opponents say TPP is in big trouble. The more voters hear about the deal,
the less likely they are to support it, said Lori Wallach, an international
trade analyst at Public Citizen, a nonprofit public interest group.

“The fact that it’s become a centerpiece in the presidential primary is
extremely helpful,” Wallach said.

The Obama administration has been working behind the scenes with lawmakers
to try to address concerns about particular facets of the deal. For
example, senior officials recently met with Sen. Orrin Hatch, the
Republican chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, who has objected to
how the deal treats drugs called biologics — medicine derived from living
matter such as human cells or bacteria. The United States provides 12 years
of regulatory data protection for biologics. Under TPP, a county may limit
the data protection to eight years, and possibly lower in some cases, the
pharmaceutical industry fears.

While the trade deal has already been negotiated, it’s routine for
lawmakers to seek informal commitments from the president to address their
concerns, or side agreements between nations that would spell out
additional obligations above and beyond the trade pact itself.

Hatch said that if Obama wants TPP to be approved, he will need to work
with Congress to address various concerns.

“I’m hopeful that, at the end of the day, I, along with many of my
colleagues, will be able to support a strong TPP,” Hatch said. “But this is
a once-in-a-life opportunity and we have to make sure we get it right.”

The financial services industry also has some concerns about TPP, as do
tobacco growers. Republican Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis of North
Carolina both voted for last year’ fast-track legislation, but have
announced their intentions to vote against the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Murphy, who directs the Chamber of Commerce advocacy efforts on trade, said
he still sees “a lot of good will” to advance the trade pact, but he says
he won’t make any predictions on timing.

“All our potential supporters on the Hill agree the substance has to drive
the timing,” Murphy said.

More information about the Ip-health mailing list