How Can Obama Get Congressional Approval for the TPP? Make Them Take It or Leave It

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One of President Obama’s primary foreign policy objectives is to complete and sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free trade agreement between the United States and eleven other countries, many of which are located in Asia.[1] This massive trade agreement will govern approximately 40% of the United States’ imports and exports, while the U.S.’s partners in the agreement make up 40% of the world’s GDP and 26% of the world’s trade.[2]

The TPP is expected to eliminate tariffs on goods and services, remove many non-tariff barriers, and synchronize regulations.[3] Many U.S. proponents of the agreement are seeking greater intellectual property protections, rules on food safety, and animal and plant health regulations.[4] Additionally, U.S. automakers are lobbying for a currency provision that protects local manufacturers from foreign producers who they claim take advantage of intentionally undervalued currency.[5]

Within the United States the TPP has many critics. Despite the involvement of many Asian countries such as Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, and Japan, China is not a part of the TPP.[6] While the Obama administration has labeled the TPP as its “pivot” to Asia and a “platform for regional economic integration,” critics are concerned that the TPP attempts to contain China and offset its economic influence in the region.[7]

Many politicians and public interest groups have been critical of the secretive nature of the negotiations.[8] All TPP parties were required to sign a confidentiality agreement that allows them to share proposals solely with government officials and persons involved with their government’s domestic trade advisory process.[9] While trade negotiations are normally private, the size and scope of this agreement have many interested parties concerned with the agreement’s contents.[10]

Furthermore, many critics feel that the Obama administration’s plan for obtaining Congress’s approval of the TPP further exacerbates the agreement’s lack of transparency and accountability.[11] Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, Senator Max Baucus, recently introduced a fast-track bill to the Senate known as the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) that is supposed to expedite the approval process.[12] The TPA would create an agreement between Congress and the President where Congress agrees to limit its vote so that it can only vote yes or no on the trade agreement, foregoing the ability to submit revisions.[13] Meanwhile, the President must consult with members of Congress throughout the negotiations and adopt many of their objectives.[14]

Critics of the TPA question the extent to which Congress will actually be involved in the negotiations.[15] The negotiations have lasted almost a decade and are reportedly nearing completion.[16] Critics who are in favor of the TPP question whether the TPA is necessary to receive Congress’s approval.[17] They worry that enacting the TPA this late in the negotiating process will cause further delays that could frustrate the United States’ trade partners to the point where it could prevent finalizing the TPP altogether.[18] These critics suggest that Obama forego the TPA, listen to Congress, adapt his goals accordingly, and then lobby for TPP passage.[19] However, proponents of the TPA contend that the bill is necessary to both ratify the TPP[20] and get the other nations to sign the TPP.[21]

There is also significant doubt whether or not Congress will pass the TPA.[22] National Foreign Trade Council President Bill Reinsch is confident the bill will pass,[23] but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said that the TPA is going nowhere.[24]

Regardless of merits of the TPA, Congress must decide on the bill before negotiations on the TPP can be completed. Furthermore, President Obama and Congress will have to reach an understanding as to what the TPP will include at some point, no matter whether the TPA is passed or not.


[1] Lydia DePillis, Everything You Need to Know About the Trans Pacific Partnership, Washington Post (Dec. 11, 2013, 10:48 AM), http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/12/11/everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-trans-pacific-partnership/ .

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Krista Hughes, U.S. Lawmakers Propose Fast-Track Bill for Trade Agreements, Reuters (Jan. 9, 2014), http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/01/09/us-usa-trade-congress-idUSBREA0817520140109.

[5] Dan Ikenson, Fast Track Bill Presented but Progress on Trade Requires the President Stand up to Detroit, Forbes (Jan. 13, 2014, 11:41 AM), http://www.forbes.com/sites/danikenson/2014/01/13/fast-track-bill-presented-but-progress-on-trade-requires-the-president-stand-up-to-detroit/.

[6] DePillis, supra note

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Hughes, supra note

[12] Michael McAuliff, Harry Reid: Fast Track Free Trade Bill Goes Nowhere, Huffington Post (Jan. 15, 2014, 11:16 AM), http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/14/harry-reid-fast-track_n_4598486.html.

[13] K. William Watson, Stay Off the Fast Track: Why Trade Promotion Authority is Wrong for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Cato Institute (Dec. 19, 2013), http://www.cato.org/publications/free-trade-bulletin/stay-fast-track-why-trade-promotion-authority-wrong-trans-pacific.

[14] Id.

[15] Hughes, supra note

[16] DePillis, supra note

[17] Watson, supra note

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Ikenson, supra note

[21] Hughes, supra note

[22] McAuliff, supra note

[23] Hughes, supra note

[24] McAuliff, supra note


Posted by Cameron H. Martin on Wed. February 5, 2014 8:00 AM
Categories: Free Trade

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