Obama puts Congress on notice: TPP is coming

August 12, 2016


The White House put Congress on notice Friday morning that it will be sending lawmakers a bill to implement President Barack Obama's landmark Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement - a move intended to infuse new energy into efforts to ratify the flat-lining trade pact.

[Adam Behsudi | August 12, 2016 | Politico]

The submission of the draft Statement of Administration Action establishes a 30-day minimum before the administration can present the legislation, but it is unlikely to do so amid the heated rhetoric of a presidential campaign that has depicted free trade deals as major job killers.

Friday's move is the clearest indication yet that the White House is serious about getting Obama's legacy trade deal - the biggest in U.S. history - passed by the end of the year, as he has vowed to do despite the misgivings of Republican leaders and the outright opposition of a majority of Democrats in Congress.

Striking a defiant tone, Obama predicted in a press conference last week that the economic centerpiece of his strategic pivot to Asia would pass in the lame-duck session, saying he'd like to sit down with lawmakers after the election to discuss the "actual facts" behind the deal, rather than toss it around like a "political football."

The notification, a new requirement of the trade promotion authority legislation Congress passed last year that allowed Obama to wrap up the TPP talks, is "meant to ensure early consultations between the administration and Congress," Matt McAlvanah, a spokesman for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, said in a statement. "As such, the draft SAA was sent today in order to continue to promote transparency and collaboration in the TPP process."

The White House draft document describes the significant steps the administration will take to implement any changes to U.S. law required by the deal. Those actions range from the mundane - designating an administration point of contact for communications about the pact - to the complex - setting up procedures to stop harmful surges of agricultural or textile imports.

But the deal is going nowhere until the White House addresses a number of concerns lawmakers have raised about the Asia-Pacific pact, which the 12 participating countries signed in February.

First and foremost: satisfying the concerns of Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and other lawmakers about protections for a new class of drugs derived from living organisms known as biologics. They say the pact provides too short a monopoly period for rights to research and development data. Other lawmakers have complained the deal would bar tobacco companies from seeking redress through investor-state dispute arbitrage for damages resulting from country regulations. Still others are seeking assurances that other countries will abide to their commitments to provide access for U.S. pork and dairy exports.

Until these issues are resolved, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have made clear that the pact will not have the votes it needs to pass.

The administration claims it is making progress on these issues and have resolved others, including banking industry concerns over the exclusion of financial data from rules prohibiting countries from requiring local storage.

Once Congress reviews the draft statement, the administration can move forward with sending lawmakers a final statement and the draft of the implementing bill itself, which will describe the actual changes to U.S. law to comply with the rules of the trade agreement. 

After that, the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees could hold "mock markups" of the bill (because under trade promotion authority, Congress is not actually allowed to tinker with the agreement or its implementing legislation itself, but it can ask the administration to do so). But given the tenor of the elections, the entire process could be pushed into a crowded lame-duck legislation session, which would mean no time for the mock markups and, instead, a lot of deal-making between the White House and congressional leadership to move the bill before Clinton or Trump takes over on Jan. 20.

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