After six years of negotiations, a final Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement has been reached in Atlanta. Check your pacemakers, trade policy wonks. This is about as exciting as it gets in our world.
First, congratulations are in order for the TPP negotiators, who worked extremely hard over the past several years in an environment of profound public skepticism – much of it driven by pervasive scaremongering – to arrive at this moment. Reaching accord on a broad array of subjects between 12 countries at different levels of economic development with disparate policy objectives is not a task for the faint of heart.
Second, there is still quite a bit of work to be done on the domestic front. Even with the deal “concluded,” the president cannot sign the agreement until 90 days after he officially announces his intention to do so. During that period, there will be intensive consultations between the administration and Congress over the details; the legal text of the agreement will be made available to the public on the internet; the USTR advisory committees will submit their assessments of the deal to Congress; and there will be ample opportunity for informed, robust domestic debate about the deal’s pros and cons.
After the 90-day consultation period, the president can return to the TPP partners with input from Congress, which may or may not warrant modifications to the deal to improve its chances of ratification. Once the deal is signed, the administration then has a maximum of 60 days to prepare a list of all U.S. laws that will need to be changed on account of TPP; the U.S. International Trade Commission will have a maximum of 105 days to do an analysis of the likely impact of the TPP on the U.S. economy; the congressional trade committees will perform mock markups of the implementing legislation; and, then, the final TPP implementing legislation will be introduced in both chambers. After the legislation is introduced, the House will have 60 days and the Senate will have 30 days to hold votes.
These requirements stem from the Trade Promotion Authority legislation enacted over the summer. If the TPP is going to be ratified by this Congress under this president, the timelines suggest that there isn’t much room for delay. Although it has become an article of faith that trade bills don’t move during election years, there is simply no avoiding the TPP landing in Congress’s lap and animating the presidential debates and primary elections. Expect a vote anytime after July 2016, including, possibly, during the lame duck. (And watch to see whether and how Hillary Clinton contorts her position to come back around to supporting the deal she helped launch as Sectretary of State.)
As to substance, I’m not offering any endorsements until I have a chance to review the text. In fact, my trade center colleagues and I intend to do a chapter-by-chapter assessment of the deal, rating each on a scale of 0 (protectionist) to 10 (free trade), and providing an aggregate TPP grade. We expect the scores for some chapters will be pulled down by certain terms that amount to baked-in protectionism. For example, apparently the United States “secured” a 25 year phase-out period for our 2.5% auto import tariffs and a 30 year phase-out for our 25% pick-up truck tariff. Gee, thanks for that shot glass of economic freedom.
Like most legislation that comes before Congress, there will be both good and bad terms in the TPP. If the agreement is net liberalizing, I will likely offer my endorsement. And, as I like to say about these trade deals, don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good.