Obama's big trade moment

November 10, 2014


The voters last week said jobs and the economy are their number one issues.  Yet Obama, McConnell and the globalists are pushing hard to kill American jobs and the economy with more dumb trade and global governance deals.

“For the last 16 months there’s been heightened intensity in the negotiations including on the ministerial level,” Froman said. “Over the last few months, there has been very significant progress in terms of closing out issues, narrowing the differences on remaining issues, and particularly in the last month or so a heightened degree of momentum and focus on reaching a successful conclusion.”

[Reposted from Politico  |  Adam Behsudi  |  November 10, 2014]

Still, the president faces an increasingly tight time period in which to get the Asia-Pacific trade deal concluded before the 2016 presidential campaign starts in earnest.

“The U.S. recognizes the window is so short for them,” said Deborah Elms, executive director of the Singapore-based Asian Trade Centre, in an interview in Beijing.

If a deal isn’t inked and sent to Congress by May or June, it will most likely be delayed until the next president takes office in 2017, she said.

“After five years of negotiations, they’ve aired all the issues,” Elms said. “You have to close TPP whether you have TPA or not.”

But even with Obama’s call Monday for advancing the trade agreement, there’s no guarantee other countries will listen. Japan in particular has thrown up the biggest obstacle to closing the agreement.

At the outset, it was no secret that Tokyo would defend sensitive agricultural goods from competing foreign products. With the Japanese economy in need of a jump-start, the U.S., maybe too naively, thought Prime Minister Shinzo Abe could marginalize his country’s powerful agriculture lobby for the greater economic good.

That assumption proved to be wrong. Bilateral market access negotiations have crept along, and, by some reports, resentment between the two sides has grown only deeper in the process.

Froman, perhaps in an attempt to prod Tokyo toward concessions, penned an editorial in the Financial Times calling out Japan’s reluctance to offer meaningful tariff cuts.

“That was insulting to the Japanese government,” said Nobuhiko Suto, a former three-term member of Japan’s legislature, the Diet.

Suto leads the Citizens Congress for Opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership and described an “enormous gap” that he says still exists between the U.S. and Japan on agriculture.

Despite indications late last week that the two sides may finally be emerging from their deadlock, Suto said the Japanese government is still treading cautiously, and a final deal could still be weeks or months in the future. Such a breakthrough is considered critical because the other negotiating countries have been waiting to see the outcome of the U.S.-Japan talks before tipping their hands on the level of compromise they’d ultimately be willing to make.

For Abe, any backlash over the potential trade concessions would come at a bad time. His Cabinet has been rocked by recent scandals after two ministers resigned over accusations that their offices misused campaign funds, and the prime minister has to make a politically risky decision by year’s end on whether to raise the national sales tax in an effort to rein in Japan’s massive public debt.

Deciding to drastically reduce agricultural import tariffs would risk alienating Japanese farmers, a major power base of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, just as a nationwide string of local elections approaches in the spring.

“This is almost committing suicide if they decide to decrease import taxes,” Suto said.

But Abe’s political perils aren’t the only significant obstacle for the White House: The president’s own leadership style could cause problems, too.

Obama has shown a lack of engagement with Congress on legislative initiatives, which Jannuzi described as “essentially off-loading responsibility onto Congress’ shoulders and saying, ‘Look, you’re the legislators. It’s not my job to dictate to you exactly what your TPA authorities are going to look like.’”

That approach stands in stark contrast with President Bill Clinton’s tactics on NAFTA and other major trade deals, in which the White House activated the entire Cabinet and went into constant-messaging mode, said Brian Pomper, a partner at the law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer and Feld and former trade counsel for the Senate Finance Committee, at the Korea institute discussion.

“During NAFTA, he invited business leaders from select districts, where they were trying to get members of Congress to support NAFTA,” Pomper said. “He would invite those business people to meet with the president in the Oval Office, get them all ginned up and then unleash them out on the Congress. And he did that repeatedly, week after week after week.

“I can’t imagine President Obama doing anything close to something like that,” he said.

At this time in the administration, “a lot of digital clocks are going along [showing] this is how many days we have left in office; what can we get done?” Pomper added later. “And if TPA and trade are not on that list, that is professional malpractice. But wanting it and getting it done, that’s two different things.”

Still, even with Obama and the GOP’s basic support, the legislation to expedite the Asia-Pacific pact’s approval by Congress could face a difficult path. The Republican agenda may well include efforts to block or overhaul Obamacare, modify the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory law and retaliate for the promised executive action on immigration reform.

“So, I worry about where the push politically will come to get this done,” Jannuzi said. “Tough trade agreements don’t get done without a political push. … There needs to be a champion for this, and if it’s not the Republican leadership, then I worry whether or not it gets done.”

“[I]t will be all about who goes first and who shows the leadership,” he added. “My hope is that Obama early next year, in his State of the Union address, will say to Congress, ‘We may disagree on a lot of things, but here’s an area where we agree. Let’s get it done, and let’s get it done sooner rather than later.’”

Doug Palmer and Victoria Guida contributed to this report.

Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.