TPP No Longer A Secret
By: Steve Craven
All the dark secrets are out! For months, we heard little about the negotiations for a Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) except complaints that the negotiations were kept secret. Single-interest groups, of course, wanted to know what impact there might be for their passion. Politicians wanted exciting issues to bash or support. The media wanted easy access to stories. And all assumed the worst. They ignored that TPP is one of the most complicated international negotiations ever and that such agreements can’t be negotiated in public. Why? The press won’t allow anyone to change a position that is made public and single-interest groups are implacably opposed to the trade-offs necessary to reach an agreement. And politicians really don’t like having to decide if an agreement is in the national interest, even if that might anger a constituent.
But you, or anyone, can now read the TPP agreement. Just go to go.wh.gov/TPPText and begin plowing through the thirty chapters plus annexes and other documents. It’s something over 600 pages and, I confess, we haven’t read it all yet. But we plan to do that and to bring you summaries as we voyage through the texts. So stay with us and check back for posts as we make progress.
Our intent is not to make a case for or against the TPP agreement. Whether or not the agreement is in the national interest will become clear as we know more about it. It really doesn’t matter what your or my view is unless you tell your senators and representatives in the Congress. The final decision is up to them – not you. But we have several long months to form our opinions and to let our members of Congress know how we think they should vote.
President Obama notified Congress on November 5 that he intends to sign the TPP agreement within 90 days. The ratification clock has begun to tick. Ninety days would take us to about February or March, and a lot will happen even during the coming holidays. Behind the scenes, the Administration is working frantically to draft implementing legislation to put the TPP agreement in place and make it operational. In our system, we don’t consider such a trade agreement as a treaty, which would be self-implementing, but simply as a paper signed by the President. It is the implementing legislation that the Congress votes on, containing all the nitty-gritty changes that will be necessary in U.S. law. Some of the TPP chapters may call for little in the way of legislation, while others may require big changes. So the implementing legislation is what the Congress will focus on.
The U.S. International Trade Commission is hard at work parsing the TPP text, analyzing the good and the bad, and pointing to making a report to Congress within 105 days after the President signs the agreement. That could put a Congressional decision back beyond July 2016, though the ITC will probably be quicker than that. Once the ITC report is in hand together with the draft implementing legislation, Congress will then have up to ninety legislative days in which to vote the legislation up or down. Those aren’t calendar days, but working days in Capitol Hill, so the final vote may not come until near the end of 2016. Like I said, you’ve got plenty of time to read the text.
Why is it an up-or-down vote – with no amendments? The TPP agreement was six years in the making and covers thousands of potential issues. The potential for Congressional amendments to up-end all that work is immense and, accordingly, our negotiating partners did not to proceed to a “final” agreement without assurance that it would actually be final. Our solution to that was Trade Promotion Authority, under which Congress gave its instructions to our negotiators, received continuous briefings on what was happening, and even had opportunities to participate as members of U.S. negotiating teams. To get all that, TPA requires that the Congress vote the resulting agreement up-or-down, with no amendments that might re-open the negotiations. At the end of the day, each member and senator is being asked to decide if they think the agreement is in our national interest. Let them know what you think.
Steve Craven advises companies on international business strategies and how to overcome problems encountered in foreign markets. He is a former consultant, American diplomat and a U.S. trade negotiator. He served as a Career Diplomat and Senior Foreign Service Officer, member of the U.S. Commercial Service, U.S. Department of Commerce. Mr. Craven also previously served as Chair of the Hawaii Pacific Export Council.