The long process featured hyperbole, demagoguery, fallacy, posturing, horse trading, unexpected tactics, strange political alliances, and several reversals of momentum. But congressional passage of the Trade Promotion Authority bill was only the warm-up act. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is the headliner, and the process of concluding, ratifying, and implementing it promises more drama.
The TPP is a prospective trade agreement between the United States and 11 other nations, which has been under negotiation for 6 years. The Obama administration made the TPP the economic centerpiece of its “pivot to Asia,” encouraged the participation of other countries, and expanded the scope of the negotiations. Beyond reducing tariffs and other border barriers, the TPP will include rules governing labor and environmental standards, government procurement, intellectual property protection, investment, supply chains, state-owned enterprises, and much more. The scope of the deal is so broad that the final agreement will likely include 29 separate chapters.
For the better part of a year, the word from TPP negotiators has been that a deal was close and that the main obstacle to its completion was the absence of TPA. Logically, U.S. trade negotiating partners would be unwilling to put their best offers on the table unless the president could guarantee them that the deal was final and would not be picked apart and amended by Congress. With TPA now secure, that impediment is gone – and the credibility of those “TPP-near-completion” claims is about to be tested. Just last week, Australia’s Trade Minister Andrew Robb said the TPP was “literally one week of negotiation away from completing.” In about 8 days, that will be proven too rosy a promise.