Text of US-Pacific trade pact adds fuel to debate

06 Nov 2015


The release on Thursday of the full text of President Barak Obama's trade accord with 11 Pacific Rim nations brought out opponents and supporters and officially opened what may be the last big battle of his tenure: winning congressional approval of the largest regional trade deal in history.

The opposition mainly came from the left - an array of unions, environmental groups and public advocacy organisations that typically resist global trade agreements registered their dismay. But some businesses, like Ford Motor, also joined the emerging resistance to the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The reaction confirmed that in this, his final fight, Obama will have to rely on the Republicans who control Congress if he is to sell the legacy-making agreement in the months before the House and Senate vote next spring.

Republican leaders were withholding endorsements for now.

Early Thursday, the White House posted the text of the deal on Medium, a social media sharing website, along with the president's statement hailing the agreement as a ''new type of trade deal that puts American workers first''.

The accord ties together countries from Canada to Chile and Japan to Australia that account for 40 per cent of the world's economy. While the 12 nations' trade ministers concluded the agreement a month ago, after years of negotiations, Obama said that the disclosure of the details now should build support. He cited the agreement's labour and environmental protections, the end of many tariffs and trade barriers among the countries, and expanded markets for American goods and services.

''It eliminates 18,000 taxes that various countries put on American goods,'' Obama said. ''That will boost Made-in-America exports abroad while supporting higher-paying jobs right here at home. And that's going to help our economy grow.''

He cited the strategic as well as economic advantages of a trade alliance that would counter a rising China, which is not a party to the agreement (See: New trade deal TPP could transform global economy).

''When it comes to Asia, one of the world's fastest-growing regions, the rule book is up for grabs. And if we don't pass this agreement - if America doesn't write those rules - then countries like China will,'' Obama said. ''And that would only threaten American jobs and workers and undermine American leadership around the world.''

The President's post on Medium came hours after the United States trade representative first released the 30 chapters, side agreements and other attachments that make up the voluminous accord in the middle of the night, simultaneous with other nations doing so.

Also on Thursday, he officially notified Congress of his intent to sign the agreement in 90 days, a period specified by law to give the House and Senate time to begin deliberating over its terms. Congress has additional time beyond that to debate and vote on legislation to enact the agreement.

Final action is expected by perhaps May, ensuring that Congress's debate will occur against the backdrop of a presidential campaign in which leading candidates of both parties already have gone on record against the accord.

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is challenging Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Democrats' nomination, said the trade text was proof that the accord ''is even worse than I thought'' - a threat to American jobs, food and product safety and access to affordable drugs, for the benefit of international corporations and third-world countries.

Without naming Clinton, who last month sprang a surprise by announcing her opposition to the agreement, Sanders summoned the phrase she once used as secretary of state to hail the emerging Pacific accord. ''It is clear to me that the proposed pact is not, nor has it ever been, the gold standard of trade agreements,'' Sanders said (Clinton's turnaround on TPP leaves observers stunned).

The agreement also must be approved in the other 11 nations. Besides Chile, Canada, Japan and Australia, they are Mexico, Peru, New Zealand, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.

The Obama administration is hoping that the accord's labour protections, along with separate bilateral agreements on labour and human rights between the United States and Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei, will help persuade some Democrats to back the deal.

The administration is especially eager to promote its agreement with Vietnam, which commits its communist government to change its laws to allow workers to freely unionise and to strike, not just for better wages and hours but also for improved working conditions and other rights.

''Without reservation, I think this is the best opportunity we've had in years to encourage deep institutional reform in Vietnam that will advance human rights, and it will only happen if TPP is approved,'' Tom Malinowski, the assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, said in an interview.

The organisation where Malinowski formerly worked, Human Rights Watch, is among the sceptics who say Vietnam's commitments are unenforceable, especially given the track record of the United States trade office.

John Sifton, the group's Asia advocacy director, said workers should have been given the same right that corporations have under this trade agreement and others: to take complaints about a country's compliance directly to a dispute settlement panel.

For the first time as part of a trade accord, the Pacific partners agreed in a ''joint declaration'' to avoid manipulating the value of their currencies for trade advantage, to report interventions in foreign exchange markets and to meet annually to hold one another accountable.

The language did not persuade some Democrats - or Ford, which broke with other big businesses that support the agreement - that it would prevent Japan and other countries from intervening to underprice their exports unfairly.

The annual currency forum ''does nothing to change the status quo,'' Ford said in a statement, adding, ''It fails to include dispute settlement mechanisms to ensure global rules prohibiting currency manipulation are enforced.''

While the Obama administration played up environmental standards included in the accord as precedent-setting, the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council were among groups that came out in opposition, calling the language weaker than in trade pacts negotiated during the George W Bush administration.

Other advocacy groups, including Doctors Without Borders, cited language that would give pharmaceutical companies up to eight years of intellectual property protections before their data is available for production of lower-cost generic drugs.

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