Tag: TPP

Former USTR Rob Portman Opposes TPP for the Worst Reasons

Yesterday, Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), a former U.S. Trade Representative during the George W. Bush administration, announced his opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. 

According to Reuters:

Portman, from Ohio, said the Pacific trade deal fails to meet the needs of his state’s workers because it lacks an enforceable provision to fight currency manipulation and because of new, less-stringent country-of-origin rules for auto parts.

“I cannot support the TPP in its current form because it doesn’t provide that level playing field,” Portman said in a statement.

The announcement is significant because passage of the TPP will rely on broad Republican support and because Senator Portman’s credentials (as former USTR and member of the Senate Finance Committee who represents a traditionally trade-skeptic region of the country) have earned him a prominent voice on trade policy in Washington.

Trade Is Not a Trade-Off: The Stronger Case for Free Trade

Too many advocates of trade liberalization don’t really understand the case for free trade. Consider this sympathetic interview by Steve Inskeep of NPR with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, the chief negotiator of the Trans-Pacific Partnership:

INSKEEP: Froman argues the TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, will give U.S. industries more access to foreign markets. Granted, there’s a trade-off. Other nations get more access to the U.S. for their products. Froman contends that, at least, happens slowly as tariffs or import taxes drop.

FROMAN: The tariff on imported trucks from Japan, as an example, won’t go away for 30 years. On apparel and textiles, we worked very closely with the textile manufacturers in the U.S. to come up with an outcome that they could be comfortable with, so that we’ll let in clothes coming that are made Vietnam or made in Malaysia, but they’ve got to use U.S. fabric.

Inskeep refers to the lowering of U.S. tariffs as “a trade-off,” and Froman accepts that characterization. Both operate from the premise that Americans want other countries to reduce their barriers to our exports, and that the “trade-off” for that benefit is that we must reduce our own trade barriers.

That’s backwards. The benefit of trade is that we get access to goods and services that we might not get otherwise, or we get to pay lower prices for the goods we want. More broadly, we want free – or at least freer – trade in order to remove the impediments that prevent people from finding the best ways to satisfy their wants. Free trade allows us to benefit from the division of labor, specialization, comparative advantage, and economies of scale.

TPP Ends Up with Pleasantly Mild Rules on Biologic Drug Monopolies

The Trans-Pacific Partnership will reportedly include an obligation for every country to provide at least 5 years of market exclusivity for new biologic drugs.  Technically, this counts as a loss for U.S. negotiators, who started with a demand for 12, lowered that to 8, reconfigured 8 into “5+3”, and at the VERY last minute—despite direct calls from President Obama to foreign leaders—were forced to acquiesce to 5 years.  The U.S. pharmaceutical industry says it’s very disappointed, but the outcome is good for the TPP and for consumers around the world.

It’s important to recognize that the exclusivity we’re talking about here has nothing to do with patent protection.  It is not a form of intellectual property.  Exclusivity is a regulatory policy that instructs the Food and Drug Administration not to approve generic, unpatented drugs they know are safe so that name-brand pharmaceutical companies can make more money. 

Those companies say that without a secured return on investment, they wouldn’t be able to invent new treatments.  But that’s what patents are for.  Regulatory exclusivity is a way to bypass the balances and limitations of patent law, which only protects new inventions not all expensive investments.  

They complain that it’s unfair for generic competitors to piggyback on all the expensive research and testing they did to secure FDA approval.  But that’s a problem with the expense of FDA approval.  Either lobby to make FDA approval cheaper or find a way to share costs.  Pharmaceutical companies are not entitled to the benefits they gain from regulatory inefficiency.

Biologics protection was a peculiar issue for U.S. negotiators to be spending so much effort on in the first place.  They spent a lot of negotiating capital trying to secure foreign regulations favorable to one part of one U.S. industry.  That doesn’t further the goal of free trade; in fact, it impedes that goal by diverting energy away from universally valuable efforts to open up Canada and Japan’s markets in agriculture.

The U.S. government may have wasted effort on biologic exclusivity, but at least they failed to hobble foreign countries with excessive drug regulation.  As a bonus, Congress is now free (if they wish—and they should) to roll back the 12 years of protection under U.S. law to something more reasonable.

Trans-Pacific Partnership Deal Reached! Now What?

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.

The Economics, Geopolitics, and Architecture of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership: A Cato Online Forum

In mid-2013, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations were launched to great fanfare with a pledge from its architects to conclude a deal within one year on a “single tank of gas.” Nearly two and a half years and 10 negotiating rounds later, a final TTIP deal is nowhere in sight. Well, if there is anything that trade policy observers should know by now to be an ironclad law of physics, it’s that deadlines for concluding negotiations are never respected.

Concluding trade agreements can be a long and arduous process, especially if the United States or the European Union is a party to the negotiations.  So when the United States and the European Union (who are used to dictating the terms of trade deals to smaller economies) are both party to a negotiation, it probably makes sense to budget in a little extra time for refueling – and perhaps even a new set of tires.

With that in mind, on October 12 the Cato Institute’s Herbert A. Stiefel Center for Trade Policy Studies will host a conference titled: Will the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership Live Up to Its Promise? Featuring 30-35 international trade and investment policy experts from academia, think tanks, business, and government, the conference will examine the economics, geopolitics, and architecture of the TTIP during a full day of panel presentations, interviews, and debates. The program is open to the public and you are encouraged to attend.

Among the many questions that will be raised during the conference are:

  • What are the prospects for reaching a comprehensive trade and investment deal between the United States and the European Union?
  • What exactly is under negotiation, and what is the strategy for advancing those negotiations?
  • Would it make sense to exclude sacred-cow issues that will only bog down the negotiations?
  • Is it wise to continue pursuing a single comprehensive deal for all issues on the table, or is it better to aim for a sequence of smaller agreements?
  • Should a deal include other closely integrated countries, such as Canada, Mexico, and Turkey?
  • How will TTIP affect the multilateral trading system, relations with the BRICS countries, and prospects for developing countries?
  • Where are the biggest potential gains for U.S. and European businesses?  For consumers and taxpayers?
  • What are the major domestic political impediments?

Sugar and the TPP

How much Australian sugar should be allowed to enter the U.S. market?  That’s a key question the U.S. government must answer prior to concluding the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations.  The United States is the largest sugar market in the TPP, consuming about 11 million metric tons (MMT) per year.  It also is the largest producer (7-8 MMT) and importer (3 MMT) in the group.  Australia generally is believed to be the most cost-competitive sugar producer among the12 TPP nations.  It also is the largest exporter, annually shipping 3-4 MMT to other countries. 

To complicate matters further, sugar liberalization was explicitly excluded from the 2004 Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA) due to U.S. political sensitivities.  Australian sugar producers understandably want to redress that omission.  Failure to obtain commercially meaningful access to the U.S. sugar market could lead to rejection of the pact by the Australian parliament.

The U.S. sugar program includes a price-support level for raw cane sugar of 22.25 cents per pound ($490/MT), with refined sugar supported at 26 cents.  Those levels effectively have been raised more than 10 percent to around 24.7 cents ($545/MT) and 30-32 cents, respectively, under the trade-restricting terms of the recent settlement agreement in the antidumping/countervailing-duty (AD/CVD) dispute involving imports from Mexico. (For more on U.S.-Mexico sugar issues, see here and here.)  Mexico is the largest supplier of U.S. sugar imports, generally providing between 1.0-1.5 MMT per year.  Suffice it to say that the agreement between the U.S. and Mexican governments will limit the amount of sugar Mexican producers can export to the United States, and also force that sugar to be sold at higher prices. 

With global raw sugar prices currently at relatively low levels of around 12 cents, Australian cane growers find the possibility of selling more sugar to the United States at high prices to be quite intriguing.  However, those sales currently are limited to the amount allocated to Australia under the U.S. tariff-rate quota (TRQ) regime – a modest quantity of only 87,000 MT.  Australia is asking that the TRQ be boosted by 750,000 MT, an increase of more than nine times.  The United States apparently has offered an additional 65,000 MT (official figure not disclosed), which would not even double Australia’s current access. 

Maui: A Good Start Toward Finishing the TPP

Trade ministers from the twelve nations negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) met last week in Maui.  Some observers had expressed hopes that the Maui ministerial meeting would produce a final TPP agreement.  The “collapse” in Hawaii has caused some commentators to voice fears that it may not be possible to conclude TPP anytime soon.  Those fears are overblown.  My view is that the Maui meeting qualifies as quite a good start toward actually finishing the TPP. 

Bear in mind that the TPP negotiations have been going on for several years.  The United States became an active participant during President Obama’s first term.  However, until recently, U.S. negotiators have been handicapped by lack of Trade Promotion Authority (TPA, also known as “fast track”).  Other countries were understandably reluctant to try to conclude TPP without assurance that Congress would be willing to vote up or down on the agreement, rather than picking it to pieces with amendments.  So all previous negotiating sessions amounted to warm-up rounds, with the most serious discussions being held in abeyance until the United States finally was ready to engage without reservations.

Maui was the first TPP ministerial at which U.S. negotiators actually were in a position to consider closing the deal.  If all other countries had the same perspective on the issues as the Obama administration, the agreement could have been concluded.  Not surprisingly, other countries have various opinions on key topics.  The Maui talks allowed ministers to put those differences clearly on the table. Undoubtedly, negotiators now have a much better idea of the realm of possible outcomes.  They know what they will be expected to give in order to receive what they want in return.  By last Friday afternoon, it was time for ministers to leave Maui and head back to their capitals for high-level consultations.

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