U.S. Trade: Prospects Dimming for TPP?
When there were more than 20 people running for president of the United States, the future of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement seemed uncertain.
Now that just three candidates remain its defeat is all but certain, unless TPP’s most ardent advocate, who still occupies the Oval Office for another six months, can find a way to move it forward.
Thus far, however, President Obama’s desire to adopt TPP has been thwarted in Congress. The administration may now be pinning its hopes on ratification during the “lame duck” session between the November election and the swearing in of a new President in January.
But as the election approaches it is clear that the candidates from the two political parties don’t agree on much of anything – except their opposition to this one particular agreement.
Hillary Clinton: Once For TPP, Now Against It
The best-case scenario for TPP passage is still the election of Hillary Clinton, who once supported the trade agreement but has since changed her position.
Clinton has supported free trade legislation in the past, and some political analysts believe her reversal on TPP is temporary, after Bernie Sanders mounted a stronger-than-expected challenge from the left wing of her party. Once the acrimony of the primaries is a distant memory, a President Clinton may reconsider TPP, with additions and concessions from other countries that could be used to justify a change of heart.
Bernie Sanders: Protectionist
TPP would never pass in a Bernie Sanders administration, though the likelihood of that electoral outcome is now extremely remote. Sanders has long expressed protectionist positions on U.S. trade, a view also favored by the labor unions that rank among his most enthusiastic supporters. To Sanders, TPP is just more policy to help the rich get richer, especially corporate CEOs and Wall Street investors.
Donald Trump: America First
The Donald Trump position of TPP surpasses opposition on the road to outright contempt. “Our leaders have negotiated terrible deals that are bleeding this country dry,” Trump said before the Iowa caucus. “The TPP is another terrible one-sided deal that rewards offshoring and enriches other countries at our expense.”
While at first this position seems inconsistent with the billionaire businessman’s long-standing support of free trade, Trump has never been confident in the government’s ability to negotiate favorable deals, going back to the North American Free Trade Agreement. He believes TPP would be detrimental to the American middle class, from which much of his support emanates.
Now or Never?
While no one can predict how a future Congress will vote on any legislation, the Obama administration is still pushing for passage in the current House and Senate, where nothing much of anything is getting done or is likely to get done until after the election.
Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman are leading the full-court press. A Politico article quotes Lew as saying, “The sooner we pass TPP, the sooner we can deliver the benefits of this landmark agreement for American innovators, businesses and workers.”