Representatives from the 12 Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiating countries are set to sign the agreement in New Zealand next week. Though signing the pact is primarily ceremonial, it marks another step forward in the long process of putting the world’s largest free trade agreement into action.
In the months since the final agreement announcement, the TPP collected many new endorsements, particularly among business groups. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce announced its endorsement Jan. 6, while encouraging the Obama Administration to work with Congress and industry members on unresolved concerns.
After the Feb. 4 signing attention will largely shift to the U.S. Congress, where leaders have so far hesitated to commit to any timing for a potential vote in part because much work is needed before a vote can even be considered. The International Trade Commission (ITC), which held a hearing on the agricultural portions of the agreement earlier this month, is accepting formal testimony on the merits of the agreement until Feb. 15. Their final report due May 18 will incorporate those comments, required by this past summer’s Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) bill.
With that ITC report as an official “scorecard” of the TPP, the administration will work with Congressional leaders to find time for a vote. That is a critical point because according to the regulations set down by the TPA, after introducing the implementing legislation the appropriate committees must complete their reviews and hold a final up-or-down vote within 90 days.
Many congressional watchers speculate that this final vote will not take place until after the U.S. elections in November. Some legislators fear trade agreements are too political to address prior to the election, while others may hope a new administration will place different priorities on the agreement’s portions that are more contentious. Unfortunately, any delays will mean U.S. wheat producers and their customers overseas must continue managing through inconsistencies in sanitary and phytosanitary standards and paying higher tariffs until the agreement is implemented.
Conceived as much more than just another free trade agreement, TPP was to be the platform for expanded trade in an entire region. In fact, within a few weeks after negotiators struck an agreement, as many as 12 additional countries contacted U.S. Trade Representative officials to test the membership water. However, no other country may apply for membership until after the U.S. Congress and the governments of the 11 other countries ratify the agreement. For this positive momentum to continue and ultimately help reach that goal of lifting economic opportunity in the region, moving as quickly as possible toward the Congressional vote on TPP is critical.
By Dalton Henry, USW Director of Policy