The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will likely be back in the news at least for a brief moment this week, when the treaty comes up for a formal signing ceremony involving representatives of the 12 participating countries, including the United States.
The agreement has largely been out of the news since the release of the text in early November. President Obama did mentioned it briefly in his State of the Union address earlier in January. Other than that, there have been no dramatic headlines.
Meanwhile, the public and much of Congress remain solidly opposed to the agreement - as have presidential candidates in both political parties. That, hopefully, means the politics do not line up for a vote on the agreement before the 2016 election. But there's always the risk that Wall Street will find a way to force a vote sooner. So people should continue pressing Congress to oppose the TPP.
Formal Signing February 4 in New Zealand
The date for the big signing ceremony for the TPP was announced last week. It will be Feb. 4 in Auckland, New Zealand. Ministers from participating countries, including US Trade Representative Michael Froman, will participate.
Note that this ceremony does not "trigger" any timeline forcing Congress to vote within a certain number of legislature-in-session days. That clock starts when President Obama submits authorising legislation to Congress.
Report on the TPP's Economic Effect
Next up for the US process is the International Trade Commission's (ITC) report on the TPP's economic impact. The commission is expected to produce this report by May 18.
The Washington Post PowerPost explained what's happening with the ITC in "Independent agency holds big sway over the TPP trade deal":
For three consecutive days last week, in eight-minute segments spanning nine hours each day, lobbyists for some of the nation's biggest corporations, labor unions and trade groups testified before the panel of six appointed bureaucrats.
They included lobbyists for Walmart and Gap Inc., who praised the deal for lowering tariffs on beef, cheese, pencil cases and cotton sweaters. Leaders of the US Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers framed the pact as a chance for US companies to sell more goods abroad. Representatives for the AFL-CIO, United Steel Workers and other unions urged the commission to consider the deal's potential to erode labor conditions and wages.
Corporate lobbyists might frame the TPP as "a chance for US companies to sell more goods abroad" because they have to say that in public. What they really mean is that the TPP will encourage them to lay off even more US workers, close even more US factories and move even more production to countries with near-slave-labor conditions and no costly protections for the environment. This offshoring lets them pocket the wage and protection differential while enabling them to use havens to dodge US taxes.
Studies by outside groups have determined that whatever the TPP's economic effect is for Wall Street and US multinational corporations, it will not by favorable for US workers or the economy. For example, from December, "Important Report Says the TPP 'Skews Benefits To Economic Elites'":
The congressionally created Labor Advisory Committee for Trade Negotiations and Trade Policy (LAC) has just released a scathing report that urges President Obama "in the strongest possible terms" to send the Trans-Pacific Partnership "back to the negotiating table" instead of to Congress, saying the treaty "will harm our economy overall."
… "The TPP is likely to harm US manufacturing interests, cost good jobs, suppress wages, and threaten our democracy and economic security interests," the report said.
Note that laying off US workers, closing the factory, moving production out of the country, then importing the same goods to sell in the same outlets to the same customers "increases trade" because now those goods cross a border.
Negotiating Implementing Legislation
After the ITC report is released, the administration will formally send Congress an official, final TPP text. Even though the TPP's text has been released to the public, this is a formal action, and will be accompanied by details of how the administration plans to implement the TPP.
The administration has begun negotiating with Congress to finalize an implementing legislation bill. The administration is deciding when to submit this formal, final implementing legislation to Congress. That does start a countdown clock as specified in the "fast track" trade legislation passed last year. The White House will do this based on when they think they have the best chance to get the TPP passed. Currently, it looks for a number of reasons as if this is likely to be delayed until after the election - but it could come at any time.
Significant Public Opposition
The optimism that a vote on the TPP might not happen until after the election, if ever, is directly related to significant public opposition to the agreement. For example, earlier this month The Washington Post, in "Hundreds of advocacy groups ask Congress to block Obama's Pacific Rim trade pact," reported that a "coalition of more than 1,500 interest groups is sending a letter to Congress on Thursday demanding that lawmakers block the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the 12-nation Pacific Rim trade pact championed by the Obama administration."
Labor unions, environmental groups, consumer advocates and faith groups are among the 1,525 organizations that signed onto the document, which was organized by the Citizens Trade Campaign. Hundreds of local labor union affiliates have signed on.
Presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are actively and vocally campaigning against the TPP, with Sanders also continuing to attend rallies and lobby other members of Congress to oppose it. Candidates Hillary Clinton and Ted Cruz have gone on record as opposing it because of the public opposition.
Republicans Demanding More Corporate-Favoring Language
Another barrier potentially in the way of a near-term vote is Republican opposition based on the TPP not being favorable enough for corporations. For example, Republicans leaders are demanding changes that favor big corporations like tobacco. The TPP has a "tobacco carve-out" that can keep countries from being sued when they try to protect public health by helping citizens stop smoking or keep children from starting. This interferes with corporate profits, which under the investor-state dispute settlement "corporate court" provisions countries cannot do.
Non-tobacco companies say that allowing any such "tobacco carve-out" is a bad precedent, opening up a slippery slope of allowing countries to protect citizens from other products that harm or defraud their citizens. They are joining with tobacco companies to demand side letters from participating countries saying they will allow these suits even as the TPP's formal text gives them a choice of opting out of them.
Republicans are also demanding even longer patent monopoly terms for pharmaceutical companies.
Election Issue Risk - or Lame-Duck Risk?
Usually public opposition does not matter in Congress if Wall Street is in favor of something, as it is with the TPP. But in an election year there is a risk of something as overwhelmingly unpopular as the TPP becoming an election issue. For example, Sacramento-area Representative Ami Bera is facing opposition after he voted in favor of "fast track" trade legislation. Local Democratic clubs are refusing to endorse him, and there will be a full floor fight over endorsing him at the February statewide Democratic convention. With the election coming up, other "corporate Democrats" are taking note of this.
However, the big corporate lobbying organizations, the Business Roundtable, the Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) are pushing the administration to move the TPP toward passage as soon as possible. Under the fast-track trade legislation passed last year, the timing of a vote is in the administration's hands, not those of congressional leaders. If there is a reason to think Congress will pass the TPP, the administration will move very fast to get a vote.
But it currently looks like Wall Street, the big corporations, the Obama administration and the Republican Party are lining for a the TPP vote in the "lame duck" session after the election. In a lame-duck session members who have retired or been kicked out of office are still allowed to vote - but there is no way for the public to hold them accountable. So for them a TPP vote would be like an audition for a lucrative corporate lobbying position. Also members who have been elected or re-elected with Wall Street financing will be asked to repay their contributors, with two whole years before the public can do anything about it.
Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) explained on a press call earlier this month why a TPP vote might come in the "lame duck" session. "Wall Street has the money that our current campaign finance system requires," he said. "Members can take the money for their campaigns, get elected in November, then deliver the votes in December to reward those contributors after the election."
Either way - whether the vote is orchestrated to come before or after the elections - everything that people can do to push Congress to line up on the side of the public will could prevent a vote from happening at all, or ensure a vote defeating the TPP. Contact Congress today to let your representative know you want that person to come out publicly in opposition to the TPP.