President Obama seems to be undertaking one final push to get the Trans-Pacific Partnership passed.
On August 2nd, Obama received Singapore Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, in a State Arrival Ceremony. He used the meeting as an opportunity to join forces to promote the agreement.
“Right now I’m president, and I’m for it,”
Obama said, reiterating his resolve to get it passed before he leaves office in January.
“If we don’t establish strong rules, norms for how trade and commerce are conducted in the Asia-Pacific region, then China will,” Obama continued. “We are part of a global economy. We’re not reversing that. It can’t be reversed.”
The Prime Minister expressed solidarity with the President.
“Your friends who have come to the table who have negotiated, each one of them has overcome some domestic political objection, some sensitivity, some political cost to come to the table and make this deal,” he said.
“If at the end waiting at the altar the bride doesn’t arrive, I think there are people who are going to be very hurt — not just emotionally but really damaged. For a long time to come.”
Obama will rejoin the campaign trail for the trade deal in September, embarking on a trip to Asia with Secretary of State John F. Kerry, Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter, retired Admiral Michael G. Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Presidents George W. Bush and Obama, Admiral Harry B. Harris Jr., commander of the United States Pacific Command, and William Cohen, a former Republican senator and defense secretary under President Bill Clinton, in tow.
The trade pack involves 12 countries, the US, Japan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, Brunei, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, Chile and Peru, and seeks to strengthen economic ties between them by breaking down trade barriers and some 18,000 tariffs. It also aims to bring stability to developing economies, like Vietnam, by providing them access to free trade with more advanced nations. Most notably, China is excluded from the pack, a strategic play to place a chokehold on the region, something Obama plans to exploit in an effort to get the agreement passed.
A recent poll from the Pew Research Center found that since May 2015, the percentage of Republican and Republican leaning voters viewing trade packs as a negative thing went up 22 points from 39 to 61 percent. Of course, Trump began his campaign around that time, and he has since called the TPP, “a rape of our country.”
While many reservations about the deal have been resolved, a few key concerns remain. Republicans have objected to the tobacco industry not being able to capitalize on the TPP, as it is not allowed to sue other countries that ban tobacco use. Even more pressing is the Republican led attack based on the argument that the agreement would undercut drug makers’ intellectual property protections on the advanced drugs known as biologics.
“Those issues have to be addressed in a positive way before we can move forward,”
said Representative Kevin Brady, Republican of Texas and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.
He echoed sentiments previously emphasized by the House speaker, Paul Ryan, and the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell.
“But the White House really needs to pick up the pace if we’re going to consider it this year.”
Opposition is not just from Republicans. Obama must maintain support from his own party as well. All 28 Democrats in the House who have come out in favor of the TPP are still on board, but many have spoken out against the plan. In a speech in Michigan, Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, came out strongly against it, saying, “I oppose it now, I’ll oppose it after the election, and I’ll oppose it as president.”
“Both parties have candidates who have very strong rhetoric against trade,” said Mr. Brady. “Nonetheless, we can’t grow America’s economy unless we’re not merely buying American but selling American all throughout the globe.”
Still, he added, timing a vote “is absolutely dependent on support for the agreement.”