The TPP: Signed, But Not Yet Sealed or Delivered

The big trade news from yesterday was that government officials from the 12 nations negotiating the Trans Pacific Partnership traveled to New Zealand for the official signing ceremony. While the negotiators are no doubt relieved, and are looking forward to some time off, we now get to perhaps the most difficult part of the process: Seeing whether Congress will approve what the Obama administration negotiated.

Finding a way for different branches in a divided government to work together is never easy. This year you have Presidential elections thrown into the mix, which makes things even harder.

Senator Mitch McConnell is sounding pretty skeptical about holding a vote before the election, and maybe even after as well:

McConnell said his “advice” is that Congress not vote on TPP prior to the election in part because the two Democratic presidential candidates and several Republican candidates oppose the agreement.

With respect to a lame-duck vote, McConnell signaled it may not be fair to constituents to take a vote on a controversial issue such as trade after they cast their votes for who should represent them in Congress.

People are sometimes able to resolve their differences, and maybe there is some deal to be struck here. On the other hand, Senator McConnell feels pretty strongly about the “tobacco carveout” that was included in the TPP’s investment provisions. The Obama administration has used this carveout to generate TPP support from groups such as the Cancer Action Network, but it’s not clear that such support will lead to any Democratic votes for the TPP, whereas it clearly is affecting Republican views of the TPP.

So, the TPP has been signed, but it is not clear whether it can be sealed and delivered.  In fact, at this point, it seems very possible that whoever becomes President will want to take a fresh look at the terms. Hillary Clinton might want to see if it is “progressive” enough (the Obama administration keeps calling it the “most progressive trade agreement in history”); on the other side, Marco Rubio might want to make it a lot less progressive (e.g., by taking out the minimum wage provisions, and deleting the tobacco carveout).

I’ll close with a quote from Victoria Guida of Politico: “The future of the Trans-Pacific Partnership is as clear as mud … .”