- The Washington Times - Monday, October 5, 2015

The U.S. and 11 other Pacific Rim nations reached a sweeping free trade agreement Monday to cover 40 percent of the world’s economy, sparking skepticism among the administration’s scarce Republican allies in Congress and intensifying calls by liberals for Hillary Rodham Clinton to take a stand against the pact.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership, the most ambitious trade pact since the 1990s, was completed after negotiators settled thorny issues such as patent rights for biotech drugs and rules on the manufacturing sources of auto parts.

President Obama, who views the deal as the key to rebalancing U.S. foreign policy toward Asia, acknowledged the challenge ahead in Congress by saying lawmakers would be able to “read every word” of the agreement before voting on it.

“If we can get this agreement to my desk, then we can help our businesses sell more ‘Made in America’ goods and services around the world, and we can help more American workers compete and win,” said the president, insisting that the deal is good for the middle class.

Lawmakers in the other TPP countries, including Japan, Canada, Australia and Vietnam, also must approve the deal, which would lower or eliminate tariffs on nearly 18,000 categories of goods ranging from dairy products to software.

In Congress, there were troubling signs for the president. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican who helped the White House secure passage of trade promotion authority this year over the opposition of Democrats and labor unions, voiced reservations about the deal after negotiators made it harder for tobacco companies to challenge anti-tobacco regulations in various nations.

“Serious concerns have been raised on a number of key issues,” Mr. McConnell said. “This deal demands intense scrutiny by Congress, and the legislation we passed earlier this year provides us the opportunity to give this agreement that scrutiny.”

Senate Finance Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, a Utah Republican who also voted in June to give Mr. Obama fast-track trade negotiating authority, said he was skeptical of the agreement.

“While the details are still emerging, unfortunately, I am afraid this deal appears to fall woefully short,” said Mr. Hatch, who had urged the administration to take a tough stand on drug patents and intellectual property protections.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, said he hopes the deal will bring more high-paying jobs to the U.S., but he also has “concerns surrounding the most recent aspects of the agreement.”

Democratic lawmakers, who fear the agreement will drive more manufacturing job losses in the U.S., said they are most concerned that the deal doesn’t address currency manipulation by chronic violators such as Japan and Vietnam, and that lenient “rules of origin” for manufactured products will allow producers to claim an item is “made in the U.S.” when half or more of its parts are produced elsewhere, including in non-TPP countries such as China.

“This deal is a huge win for China,” said Rep. Brad Sherman, California Democrat. “Goods can be substantially made in China, then get a ‘made in Vietnam’ sticker put on them, and sent to the United States duty-free while we get zero access to the Chinese market.”

But U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman called the deal an “ambitious, high-standard, comprehensive agreement.”

“We think it helps define the rules of the road for the Asia-Pacific region in ways that are consistent with the values we share,” he said after the final marathon negotiating session in Atlanta.

The agreement immediately raised the stakes in the presidential race. Mrs. Clinton, who embraced TPP while serving as Mr. Obama’s secretary of state, faced renewed calls to denounce the pact as she courts voters in Democratic Party’s liberal wing against a stronger-than-expected challenge from Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont, an outspoken opponent of the deal.

“She spoke about [how] we needed to have an agreement that didn’t hurt working families,” said Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro, New York Democrat. “So there is now an agreement. Each one of our presidential candidates should be opposed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership.”

Rep. Marcy Kaptur, Ohio Democrat, said the issue “is going to pivot deeply into the presidential race.”

“You can see what’s happening across the country in popular affinity to candidates who’ve been talking about this,” she said, referring to Mr. Sanders and Republican front-runner Donald Trump. “I credit those candidates who are taking it into the fight for the presidency. It belongs there. It’s that kind of major fight. I think that all the candidates should state their position. My heart will be with the candidate who supports reform of our trade laws so they create jobs in this country again.”

Mrs. Clinton was silent on the subject Monday, while Mr. Sanders again blasted the deal.

“Wall Street and other big corporations have won again,” Mr. Sanders said. “It is time for the rest of us to stop letting multinational corporations rig the system to pad their profits at our expense. In the Senate, I will do all that I can to defeat this agreement.”

White House press secretary Josh Earnest conceded that some Democrats such as Mr. Sanders cannot be persuaded to support the deal.

“Even if Sen. Sanders has reached his conclusion, there is ample reason for those participating in a Democratic presidential primary to believe the TPP isn’t just good for the middle class in the United States it’s also good for advancing the kinds of priorities the president has championed since he’s been in office,” he said.

Pressed on Mr. Sanders’ criticism of the deal, Mr. Earnest said the White House believes he is dead wrong.

“To say that I disagree with that conclusion is putting it mildly,” he said.

Mr. Trump has called TPP a disaster, and other Republican candidates have expressed opposition in varying degrees.

Congress likely will cast an up-or-down vote on the trade deal early next year, which Ms. DeLauro called “perfect timing.”

“The presidential election year is the best opportunity to shine the light on all of the bad trade provisions in this deal,” she said.

Opponents of the deal in Congress predicted a tougher road for the administration than the June vote for trade promotion authority, which passed the House by a margin of 219-211.

“Many of those members who were supportive of [trade promotion authority], when they see the specific details and the impact on their businesses, they’re going to take a second look at this and I think they’ll vote no,” said Rep. Daniel T. Kildee, Michigan Democrat.

Rep. Paul Tonko, New York Democrat, said TPP would create more job losses in the U.S. than the North American Free Trade Agreement of 1994, implemented during the Clinton administration.

“This deal is NAFTA on steroids,” Mr. Tonko said.

Progressive groups signaled that they will push Congress to reject the agreement. Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said the deal “threatens our families, our communities, and our environment.”

“The Trans-Pacific Partnership would empower big polluters to challenge climate and environmental safeguards in private trade courts and would expand trade in dangerous fossil fuels that would increase fracking and imperil our climate,” he said. “Congress must stand up for American jobs, clean air and water, and a healthy climate and environment by rejecting” the pact.

Business groups generally hailed the announcement of a final deal, although some were cautious, saying not all details have emerged. The National Retail Federation said TPP would benefit merchants and consumers.

“International trade supports millions of jobs in the retail industry, and that number will only grow with passage of TPP,” said David French, the federation’s senior vice president for government relations.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka expressed concern that U.S. negotiators made “problematic concessions” to wrap up talks that had lasted more than five years.

“Rushing through a bad deal will not bring economic stability to working families, nor will it bring confidence that our priorities count as much as those of global corporations,” Mr. Trumka said. “We will evaluate the details carefully and work to defeat this corporate trade deal if it does not measure up.”

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide