Trans-Pacific Partnership Treaty May Not Have the Votes to Pass

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by Joshua Krause, Activist 

The Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty that is being pushed by President Obama, is alarming to say the least. The free trade agreement, which would include at least a dozen nations, has been drafted in secret and largely written for the benefit of global corporations. The fact that our government could establish any treaty in secret is bad enough, but given its sponsors and what can be gleaned from leaked documents, TPP looks like it will be a disaster for individual liberty, economic progress, and the sovereignty of our nation.

Despite the fact that the establishment has been able to keep this treacherous agreement secret for several years, the public is now becoming fully aware of it. You can almost feel their anxiety as support for it slowly evaporates. They’re clearly worried about the success of their treaty, and it shows. The US Senate is currently slated to vote on a bill that would allow Obama to “fast-track” the treaty, thus preventing Congress from amending the agreement at a later date. These corporations want this treaty set in stone now, before it loses even more support.

However, it may be too late for them.

While there is a lot of support for TPP in the halls of government, it may not be enough, and there appears to be growing fear and resentment over the treaty that crosses party lines.

Orrin Hatch, the Republican from Utah and the Senate’s generalissimo on the TPP question, gave a revealing interview to the Financial Times over the weekend. If Obama doesn’t get more Democrats behind fast-track very, very quickly, Part 1 of this undertaking is instantly in doubt.

As Hatch explained, at the moment there are too many Tea Party defectors on the right side of the aisle and too few Democrats willing to vote the bill forward. He seemed to suggest that it would be easier for Obama to cajole Democrats to get behind fast track than it would be to budge the Tea Party resisters.

That’s interesting by itself. Democrats are in for a rolling barrage of anti-TPP protest from constituencies—labor, the greens, civil society groups, the progressive wing—that matter at election time. If Democratic lawmakers are the best bet to push through fast track, the only word we’ve got for this is, Whoa!

And that’s only one roadblock this treaty needs to overcome. The TPP is international in scope, which means it needs the support of all nations involved if it wants to have any teeth. But it looks like the TPP is facing even more resistance in Japan than it is in the United States.

The Japanese leader couldn’t even deliver on imports of autos and farm products during his talks with Obama last week. These were stale, intractable trade issues when I arrived in Tokyo as a correspondent in 1987. We haven’t yet got even this stuff off the table?

The TPP’s outlook in Japan is upside down from ours. U.S. corporations are thoroughly behind the pact—having helped write many parts of it, after all. But big Japanese blue chips—makers of cars, consumer electronics, and machinery—are the core of the export sector and see nothing in the TPP other than unwelcome competition.

Flip this over and you have the weak side of Japan: rice and produce farmers and underdeveloped industrial sectors such as drugs and financial services. Long the beneficiaries of protectionist regulation (and generous supporters of the governing Liberal Democrats), these constituencies are also against the TPP—the farmers very vigorously.

Now you can hear Abe’s message to Obama for what it was: He’s very unlikely to deliver on the TPP—and whether he can’t or doesn’t want to is among the interesting questions he left behind last week. We’ll have to see which it is.

The US appears to have plenty of corporate support while lacking the enthusiasm of the legislative branch, while Japan has these roles reversed. If the two largest economies in this treaty are struggling to convince their politicians and corporations to go along with it, then it may be dead in the water. Good riddance.

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