April 10, 2014 6:43 pm

Critics fight back on Pacific trade plan

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US negotiators engaged in intense and fraught talks with Japan over forming a new Pacific trade partnership have been frustrated by Tokyo’s resistance to cutting agricultural tariffs, as well as domestic resistance to the mooted agreement within the US Congress.

Even as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) talks have entered their final stages over the past few months, the administration of Barack Obama, US president, has failed to secure important legislation which would make it easier to pass trade deals swiftly and with no amendments through Capitol Hill.

Without such a guarantee, known as Trade Promotion Authority, it is harder for the US to extract the make-or-break concessions from other countries, including Japan – customary at the eleventh hour – due to fears that the agreement may have to be renegotiated once it is up for congressional approval.

Much of the US opposition to TPP comes from within the liberal base of Mr Obama’s Democratic party – labour and environmental groups who fear it will offer more incentives for companies to move jobs out of the US and lower regulatory standards in key areas.

Administration officials have challenged such arguments by saying that globalisation cannot be ignored, and trade deals are the best way to force other countries to comply with standards – on intellectual property, for instance – they often ignore.

Recently, the geopolitical case for TPP – as well as a separate deal with the EU – has been heard more loudly in Washington, where concerns have increased over lingering tensions with China and the crisis in Ukraine. Mr Obama is due to visit Japan this month.

But the most ardent domestic critics of Mr Obama’s trade agenda are fighting back. On Thursday, Brad Sherman and Alan Grayson, two Democrats on the House foreign affairs committee, held a call with reporters to dismiss the strategic case for TPP as a last resort after the failure of the economic arguments for the deal.

The view in Washington is that the administration will not secure TPA authority until at least after November’s congressional elections. US officials have long said that TPA is not a precondition for concluding TPP.

They have argued that once a TPP deal is reached it may help rally support on Capitol Hill. For instance, business groups that could benefit may ratchet up their own pressure on Congress to approve the pact.

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