The mounting resistance in the U.S. to a Pacific-region trade deal can be found in the travel itinerary of its chief salesman: Michael Froman.
Over the past week Froman, the U.S. Trade Representative, has touted the Trans-Pacific Partnership at the Port of Los Angeles, at Paramount Pictures Corp. studios in California, a breakfast hosted by Facebook Inc. (FB:US) in San Francisco and an “armchair discussion” about trade with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack at that city’s Commonwealth Club.
Today, as chief negotiators from the 12 nations drafting the accord meet for discussions in Salt Lake City, Froman makes the pitch at two events in Washington, including a lunch hosted by the World Wildlife Fund, which says the agreement must have provisions to discourage illegal trade in timber and animals. The countries negotiating the pact want to reach an agreement by the year’s end, as opposition from Congress, consumer groups, automakers and labor unions mounts over a range of issues.
“What we do in TPP will matter for the global trading system,” Froman said Nov. 16 after a visit to the Port of Los Angeles. “Ultimately, TPP can serve as a platform for regional integration, and support and bolster the multilateral trading system.”
Republicans in Congress have said President Barack Obama’s administration isn’t doing enough to advance its trade agenda, including obtaining approval from Congress this year to put the TPP and other future trade deals on a fast track for congressional approval without amendment.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, a Michigan Republican, said last week that President Barack Obama “missed a prime opportunity” this month when he traveled to New Orleans to give a speech about exports and the economy and didn’t mention the need for fast-track approval.
The Pacific accord, which would cover a region with about $28 trillion in annual economic output, would go beyond usual trade pacts dealing with tariffs and traditional goods like agriculture. It would establish rules for trade in digital commerce and include environmental standards and protections for companies that compete against government-backed businesses.
The other nations involved in the discussions are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. The U.S. is also pursuing a separate free-trade accord with the 28-nation European Union.
This month the Pacific talks have run into a series of obstacles. The anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks on Nov. 13 released a 94-page document said to be a draft of the intellectual-property chapter of the accord, which Froman’s office declined to comment on.
Later in the day, Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, and Representative Sander Levin, a Michigan Democrat, said they wouldn’t vote for the accord unless it includes a provision to address currency manipulation.
Groups including the American Automotive Policy Council -- which represents Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co. (GM:US) and Chrysler Group LLC -- and the AFL-CIO labor federation support the inclusion of such a provision and a group of 60 senators in September asked the administration to address the issue in future accords.
Last week, 151 House Democrats sent a letter to Obama opposing his getting fast-track authority, citing lack of congressional consultation in the Pacific-rim negotiations -- a day after 22 House Republicans said they won’t cede authority to the president to negotiate trade deals.
“Over time Congress has lost its leverage to reshape these trade deals,” said Representative Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat. “The old fast-track authority must be history.”
Froman called for fast-track approval during his visit to the Port of Los Angeles. While talks between top Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee and House Ways and Means Committee began months ago, there’s little chance they will finish anytime soon.
The World Wildlife Fund is encouraged by a summary of the U.S.’s environmental proposals for the deal, Vanessa Dick, the group’s senior program officer for U.S. government relations, said in a phone interview. The WWF said on Sept. 25 that an earlier estimate of the accord’s environmental impact “leaves out a number of important issues,” including climate change.
Public Citizen, a Washington-based consumer advocate, and the AFL-CIO labor group have called for more transparency in the trade discussions. Doctors Without Borders, the international humanitarian medical organization, has said the intellectual-property provisions in the TPP could limit access to low cost generic drugs by bolstering patent protections for pharmaceuticals made by companies including Pfizer Inc. and Merck & Co.
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