Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement is reached after long delay

Stop-TPPIn somewhat of a surprise, after earlier failures to reach an agreement, the U.S. and 11 Pacific Rim nations negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement achieved a preliminary agreement this morning.

So maybe now the public will finally get to learn exactly what is in this “secret” agreement before Congress casts an up or down vote on it early next year.

The congressional debate over TPP is going to add even more turmoil to an already dysfunctional Congress considering a House leadership election, and GOP government shutdown threats over the Federal debt ceiling, Treasury’s Lew Says Congress Must Raise Debt Limit by November 5, and the long-term budget due on December 11.

The New York Times reports, U.S. and Pacific Nations Reach Major Regional Trade Accord:

The United States and 11 other Pacific Rim nations on Monday agreed to the largest regional trade accord in history, a potentially precedent-setting model for global commerce and worker standards that would tie together 40 percent of the world’s economy, from Canada and Chile to Japan and Australia.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership still faces months of debate in Congress and will inject a new flash point into both parties’ presidential contests.

But the accord — a product of nearly eight years of negotiations, including five days of round-the-clock sessions here — is a potentially legacy-making achievement for President Obama, and the capstone for his foreign policy “pivot” toward closer relations with fast-growing eastern Asia, after years of American preoccupation with the Middle East and North Africa.

Mr. Obama spent recent days contacting world leaders to seal the deal. Administration officials have repeatedly pressed their contention that the partnership would build a bulwark against China’s economic influence, and allow the United States and its allies — not Beijing — to set the standards for Pacific commerce.

The Pacific accord would phase out thousands of import tariffs as well as other barriers to international trade. It also would establish uniform rules on corporations’ intellectual property, open the Internet even in communist Vietnam and crack down on wildlife trafficking and environmental abuses.

Several potentially deal-breaking disputes had kept the 12 trade officials talking through the weekend and forced them repeatedly to reschedule the promised Sunday announcement of the deal into the evening and beyond. Final compromises covered commercial protections for drug makers’ advanced medicines, more open markets for dairy products and sugar, and a slow phaseout — over two to three decades — of the tariffs on Japan’s autos sold in North America.

Yet the trade agreement almost certainly will encounter stiff opposition.

Its full 30-chapter text will not be available for perhaps a month, but labor unions, environmentalists and liberal activists are poised to argue that the agreement favors big business over workers and environmental protection.

Long before an accord was reached, it was being condemned by both Mr. Trump, the Republican presidential front-runner, and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is challenging Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Democrats’ nomination.

Greg Sargent at the Washington Post argues that this will revive Trump’s campaign by allowing him to demagogue his rivals who support “free trade.” Morning Plum: Donald Trump is just getting started, Republicans:

I’m telling you, folks, if you think Donald Trump’s demagoguery on immigration has created problems for Republicans, just wait until he unveils his next act. If we get a Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal, Trump may well roll out a whole new story about how Republicans and Democrats alike are conspiring with a shadowy cabal of international elites to help China and other foreign countries continue destroying the living standards of American workers.

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Though it has received surprisingly little attention, Trump has previously attacked the TPP, and the Times’ Jackie Calmes makes these crucial points:

Even if agreement is reached this week, Congress will not debate and vote on it until late winter — in the heat of the states’ presidential nominating contests — because by law Mr. Obama cannot sign the deal without giving lawmakers 90 days’ notice.

…it is the rhetoric of Mr. Trump, given his celebrity appeal, that has Republican leaders more worried that a toxic trade debate could threaten vulnerable Republicans in 2016.

The TPP may be debated in Congress precisely when the voting is fully underway in the GOP presidential primaries. And Republican leaders are worried that Trump’s rhetoric against “free trade” will create complications for the party’s Senate incumbents, who would presumably want to vote to pass the deal. But that’s not all: the TPP could also provide Trump with a weapon to wield against his GOP rivals. Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio support it. By contrast, Trump has railed against the TPP by warning that China will be given back-door access to the deal, further enabling China’s ongoing ripoff of American workers, and against international “free trade” deals in general by claiming we are being “defrauded” by other countries.

And in another signal, Trump gave an interview to John Harwood in which he claimed we are getting taken to the cleaners by a number of other countries, particularly China’s currency manipulation and tariffs. “Countries are taking advantage of us, big league,” Trump said. Thus, his attacks on the TPP could be seamlessly woven into the broader story that Trump is already telling, in which immigrants are to blame for the suffering of American workers. Trump can simply add international trade-negotiating elites, their enablers among the GOP presidential candidates and among Republicans and Democrats in Congress  — and a new version of the Chinese menace, which he has been heartily bashing already — to the cast of villains. (There will be plenty of legitimate reasons to criticize the TPP; Trump will likely opt for a lurid and xenophobic tack.)

If Trump does go this route, it will be interesting to watch, because it will test the assumption that GOP primary voters (many of whom already appear to agree with the tale he’s telling about illegal immigrants) agree with GOP orthodoxy on “free trade.”

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Who will these voters listen to on the Trans Pacific Partnership — Jeb Bush, who is trying to talk in reasonable tones about the virtues of lowering international trade barriers, or billionaire Trump, who is warning that foreign elites are looking to rip off American workers even more than they have done already?

On the Democratic side, Senator Bernie Sanders was already denouncing the TPP agreement this morning. Sanders blasts ‘disastrous’ Obama trade deal:

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) labeled a new trade deal finalized by the Obama administration on Monday as “disastrous,” and said he would work to defeat it.

“Wall Street and other big corporations have won again,” 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.”

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Sanders says the agreement follows other trade deals with “Mexico, China and other low-wage countries that have cost millions of jobs and shuttered tens of thousands of factories across the United States.”

“In the Senate, I will do all that I can to defeat this agreement,” he said.

“We need trade policies that benefit American workers and consumers, not just the CEOs of large multinational corporations.”

The New York Times reports that “Mrs. Clinton, who as secretary of state promoted the trade talks, has expressed enough wariness as she has campaigned among unions and other audiences on the left that her support is now in doubt.” Clinton will now have to take a position on TPP.

Still, in Congress the outcome for ratifying the agreement “will be affected by what’s in it, and that’s the way it should be,” said Representative Sander Levin of Michigan in an interview here before the deal came together. He was the one lawmaker to come to Atlanta to monitor final talks.

Mr. Levin, the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction for trade, has supported some trade pacts but was skeptical of this one. He is concerned about unfair competition from Japan for his state’s automakers and union workers. In particular, Mr. Levin objected that language addressing Japan’s devaluation of its currency, which reduces the cost of its auto exports, would not be in the trade agreement but rather in a side agreement that would be hard to enforce against currency scofflaws.

The Septuagenarian Ninja Turtle, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell vows ‘intense scrutiny’ of trade deal:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) warned Monday that Congress will give “intense scrutiny” to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) after negotiators reached a historic deal.

“Serious concerns have been raised on a number of key issues,” McConnell said in a statement. “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.”

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McConnell called the TPP “potentially one of the most significant trade deals in history” and added that lawmakers will have to ensure it “meets the high standards Congress and the American people have demanded.”

Under fast-track trade legislation passed earlier this year, Obama’s trade deals can be passed through Congress with a simple up-or-down vote. Lawmakers also aren’t able to amend the trade agreements.

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Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who has been critical of the deal, urged the administration to make the terms publicly available. He said that “because these negotiations have been done in secret and without meaningful consultations with Congress, it is hard to say exactly what [the U.S. Trade Representative] has agreed to in Atlanta.”

So who would have thought that we would be spending our holiday season into early next year debating trade policy and what is in the TPP? This will be an epic fight.

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