Administration Desperate to Announce Breakthrough on TPP in Japan, But Congress not Buying Economic or Foreign Policy Sales Pitch and Won’t Give Obama Fast Track
Public Citizen Publishes Updated List of TPP Issues That Require Resolution for a Deal to Be Made; List Largely Unchanged Since 2/14 Singapore TPP Ministerial
A major goal of President Barack Obama’s Asia trip is to revive the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) after four years of negotiations have resulted in talks deadlocked over scores of issues and growing U.S. congressional and public opposition.
Whether or not any real deal is made, a “breakthrough” almost certainly will be announced because the U.S-Japan summit is viewed as a do-or-die moment to inject momentum into the TPP process. Familiarity with kabuki theatre may be useful in interpreting the summit outcomes on TPP.
Obama arrives in Asia without trade authority and with TPP partners Japan and Malaysia aware that the U.S Congress, which has exclusive constitutional authority over trade policy, is increasingly skeptical about the TPP. January 2014 legislation to enact Fast Track authority was dead on arrival in the U.S. House of Representatives. Already in late 2013, 180 House members had announced they would never authorize the Fast Track process again; more announced opposition when the bill was submitted.
The prospect that Obama cannot deliver on whatever “compromises” he may make was heightened by a congressional sign-on letter circulating last week calling for Japan to be thrown out of TPP negotiations unless it agreed to eliminate its agricultural tariffs and major U.S. agribusiness interests calling for the same.
But at the same time, there is enormous pressure for Obama and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to announce a breakthrough. Months of non-stop U.S-Japan bilateral TPP negotiations and ministerial-level meetings have failed to overcome sensitive agricultural and auto market access issues. Without knowing what market access gains they may achieve in return, other TPP nations have been loath to consider high-stakes tradeoffs relating to U.S. demands in TPP to extend medicine patents, limit financial regulations, discipline state-owned enterprises, enforce labor and environmental standards, limit financial regulation.
A checklist of these unresolved issues is included at the bottom of this memo. Despite the unprecedented secrecy surrounding the TPP negotiations, leaks of TPP documents are fueling opposition in many TPP countries as the pact’s prospective threats are revealed. As a result, the other TPP nation governments face considerable domestic political liability for acceding to various U.S. TPP demands.
Finally, as the economic sales pitch for the TPP has faced increasing incredulity in Congress, TPP proponents have shifted to the foreign policy arguments-of-last-report used to sell flagging trade deals. The president’s Asia trip is the best possible platform to make arguments that distract from the TPP’s merits and shift the focus to broad brush narratives that connect to congressional and public anxieties about a rising China.
A report released last week by Public Citizen reveals that nearly identical foreign policy arguments have consistently proven baseless when used to sell trade deals over the past two decades. The report reviews foreign policy claims made to promote the TPP, ranging from the absurd to the counterfactual, to those that repeatedly have been disproved by the actual outcomes of similar claims made for past pacts. Repeatedly, Congress has approved trade deals based on dire predictions that failure to do so would mean diminished U.S. power, the takeover of important markets by competitors or foreign instability, only to find that many of those predictions came true in spite of, and sometimes even because of, pacts’ enactment.
Among the report’s findings, echoed last week in a call with members of Congress and Asia policy expert Clyde Prestowitz:
- Past free trade agreements (FTAs) failed to counter the rising economic influence of China (or Japan): From 2000 to 2011, U.S. FTAs with eight Latin American countries were sold as bulwarks against foreign economic influence in the hemisphere. The U.S. pacts were implemented and China’s exports to Latin America soared more than 1,280 percent, from $10.5 billion to more than $145 billion, while the U.S. saw only modest export growth. The U.S.-produced share of Latin America’s imported goods fell 36 percent, while China’s share increased 575 percent. Similarly, under the North American Free Trade Agreement’s (NAFTA) first 20 years, the U.S.-produced share of Mexico’s imported goods dropped from almost 70 percent to less than 50 percent, while China’s share rose more than 2,600 percent. Similarly, after hysterical claims that Japan would seize U.S. market share in Latin America by signing its own free trade agreements unless the United States approved NAFTA and other FTAs, such Japanese FTAs were signed anyway.
- The TPP will not “contain” or isolate China: U.S. officials have repeatedly welcomed China as a prospective TPP member. How can the TPP isolate China if China can become a member? Administration officials note that China could join only if it agreed to the TPP’s rules, but those rules would give Chinese products duty-free access to the U.S. market and new foreign investor rights and privileges that would enhance China’s relative economic might within the United States. This may explain China’s statements of increased interest in joining the TPP. The TPP will not empower Pacific allies to act as a bulwark against Chinese influence, given that many of those nations see China as a partner. The report cites officials from TPP countries stating that if the TPP were to become a China-containment tool, they would no longer participate in TPP negotiations.
- The TPP is not a vehicle to impose “our” rules vs. China imposing “theirs”: The TPP’s actual terms undercut the false, but conveniently scary, dichotomy posed as a choice between using TPP to impose “our” rules internationally or living with rules set by China. This argument presumes the TPP to represent “our” rules, but in fact many of the TPP’s terms reflect the narrow special interests of the 600 official U.S. corporate trade advisors that have shaped them. TPP investment rules would promote more U.S. job offshoring and further gut the U.S. manufacturing base that is essential for our national security and domestic infrastructure. TPP procurement rules would ban Buy American policies that reinvest our tax dollars to create economic growth and jobs at home. TPP service sector rules would raise our energy prices and undermine our energy independence and financial stability. TPP drug and copyright terms would raise health care costs and thwart innovation. The study summarizes a recent U.S. Department of Defense report that concludes that U.S. deindustrialization poses a threat to national security and our nation’s economic wellbeing.
TPP deal vs. kabuki checklist - to actually have a TPP deal, these issues must be resolved: