U.S., Pacific Rim reach trade deal

Staff, wire reports

Having hammered out an ambitious trade deal with 11 Pacific Rim countries, the Obama administration now faces a potentially tougher task: selling the deal to a skeptical Congress.

The countries reached a contentious trade pact Monday that cuts trade barriers, sets labor and environmental standards and protects multinational corporations’ intellectual property after marathon negotiating sessions in Atlanta through the weekend.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is designed to encourage trade among the United States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

“We think it helps define the rules of the road for the Asia-Pacific region,” said U.S. Trade Rep. Michael Froman.

However, U.S. Rep. Timothy J. Ryan, D-Howland, said he is “deeply disappointed” in the TPP.

He said the “broad and overarching 12-country deal” makes up 40 percent of the world’s gross domestic product and gives corporations “wide-ranging powers to challenge federal law.”

“Free trade without fair trade threatens manufacturing, innovation and inevitably leads to hundreds of thousands of American jobs being shipped overseas. Time and time again, we have seen how secretive trade agreements destroyed economic wellbeing in our state and across the nation,” he states in a news release.

Ryan said he is confronted almost daily with reports from constituents whose lives have been negatively impacted by past trade agreements.

“All these hardworking Americans ask for is a level playing field so they can get the compensation they deserve – but TPP does not live up to these basic standards,” he states.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, states in a release because the negotiations were done in secret and “without meaningful consultations with Congress it is hard to say exactly what USTR has agreed to in Atlanta.”

“But let me be clear – a deal that doesn’t include a minimum of NAFTA’s auto provisions or strong and enforceable currency provisions is no deal for American workers and manufacturers.

“And a deal that limits access to affordable medicines will have serious consequences for the U.S. and global health standards ….”

Brown is urging USTR to make the text public immediately to allow everyone to see for themselves how the TPP will affect American workers.

For President Barack Obama, the trade deal is a major victory on a centerpiece of his international agenda.

Obama has pursued the pact against the objections of many lawmakers in his own Democratic Party and instead forged rare consensus with Republicans.

Trade unions and other critics say the deal will expose American workers to foreign competition and cost jobs. Given the opposition, the pact’s “fate in Congress is at best uncertain,” said Lori Wallach, a leading TPP critic and director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.

Obama has cast the agreement as good for Americans workers and crucial to countering China and expanding U.S. influence in the Asia-Pacific. He stated that the partnership “levels the playing field for our farmers, ranchers, and manufacturers by eliminating more than 18,000 taxes that various countries put on our products.

The president has to wait 90 days before signing the pact, and only then will Congress begin the process of voting on it. As a result, a vote on the TPP likely will not happen until well into 2016. Congress can only give the deal an up-or-down vote. It can’t amend the agreement.

Late last month, 160 members of Congress wrote Obama urging that the TPP include measures to stop countries from manipulating their currencies to give their exporters a price advantage. The final pact, however, doesn’t include provisions on currency.

The U.S. Treasury Department said Monday that the countries will continue to separately work together “strengthen macroeconomic cooperation, including on exchange rate issues.”