Trade Trials

Getting TPP Right Is Better than Getting It Fast

Shoppers are pictured inside an Apple store on 5th Ave during Black Friday Sales in New York, November 29, 2013. Carlo Allegri / Reuters

If the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade talks start to look as if they will drag on interminably (an increasingly likely prospect), the United States’ capacity to function as a benign world hegemon will be diminished.

To avoid this, the White House is determined to get the pact signed and ratified this year. Otherwise, campaigning for the 2016 elections will put off a congressional ratification vote until at least 2017, five years after the original target date of 2012. Meeting the 2015 goal will be an uphill climb. That’s because it takes up to six months to translate a trade pact into the legal language of domestic legislation. To get a ratification vote this year, the White House would have to persuade both the U.S. Congress to approve Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) in May or early June and its 11 TPP negotiating partners to sign a deal by June or July. The partners have made it clear that they won’t conclude the negotiations until Congress approves TPA for U.S. President Barack Obama, which would give him the authority to call a yes/no vote on TPP in Congress with no amendments. The TPP nations have no reason to present their best offers if they fear that the U.S. Congress will be able to treat their concessions as a floor, not a ceiling. The May 11 Senate vote against proceeding to an immediate debate on TPA means that the Senate probably will not even vote on TPA until June, and it remains unclear whether TPA can pass the U.S. House of Representatives.

TPP proponents condemn the partnership’s opponents in Congress or other countries for the delay and argue that holding back TPP until 2017 risks turning the negotiations into another Doha trade round (which began in 2001). However, blame lies not just with other TPP countries and domestic opponents. It also lies with the posture taken by TPP’s proponents in both the U.S. government and the business sector. In that light, a

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