As you have all have probably heard by now, at long last we are done with the tedious TPA debate:
President Barack Obama signed into law on Monday legislation that gives him "fast-track" power to negotiate trade deals and speed them through Congress, ...
I will leave commentary on how the TPA process worked this time to political scientists and others. I'm just happy we can move on to the TPP debate, which, for me at least, will be a lot more interesting.
Two important questions now are: (1) what is the timing of wrapping up TPP negotiations and holding a Congressional vote? and (2) what are the chances TPP will be approved by Congress?
Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister Akira Amari said Wednesday the 12 countries negotiating a Pacific Rim free trade initiative can reach a broad agreement by the end of July, as U.S. Congress has neared passage of a bill that is crucial to concluding the pact.
“I think a ministerial meeting will be held in July,” Amari told reporters in Tokyo. “We need to reach a broad agreement in July. I think that is possible,” he said.
And here is Inside U.S. Trade, which, as usual, has good insights from insiders:
Foreign ambassadors from countries engaged in talks to complete the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) are casting doubt that negotiators will be able to quickly conclude their talks immediately after Congress passes Trade Promotion Authority (TPA).
Ambassadors from Chile, Singapore and Peru each warned that passing TPA does not mean that concluding TPP is imminent because countries have outstanding issues that will still require negotiations at the highest political level. Among the outstanding issues they highlighted were intellectual property rights, the data exclusivity period for medicines and the length of tariff phaseouts.
“There is sometimes a tendency to indicate that near approval of the TPA has solved all the matters pending in the discussion and negotiation, and this is simply not true,” Chilean Ambassador to the United States Juan Gabriel Valdes said at a panel hosted by the Atlantic Council on Tuesday (June 23). His comments were echoed by Peruvian Ambassador Luis Miguel Castilla and Singaporean Ambassador Ashok Kumer Mirpuri.
Their assessment was more cautious than that of Australian Trade Minister Andrew Robb, who said last week that TPP countries are “one week of negotiation” away from striking a deal.
It would seem odd to have TPP wrapped up so quickly after TPA is authorized. I don't really know what to expect, but the longer time-frames seem more believable to me.
Then there's the timing for the Congressional vote, where there is also a difference of opinion. Here is Gary Hufbauer:
it seems more likely than not that ... Congressional ratification of TPP will probably happen just prior to the APEC Summit in the Philippines in November 2015.
In a rush of optimism, let us further suppose that the final TPP talks begin within days and conclude within a week. Imagine they wrap up by the end of June. Now we come to the procedural requirements of TPA. Sixty days must pass between the public release of the agreement and the date when the president signs. Then, 105 days after that, the U.S. International Trade Commission needs to release a report on the economic effects of the agreement. It is only at that point that the agreement would move to Congress, which has a maximum of 90 days to consider the implementing bill. Note, those are 90 legislative days, not calendar days; the House has averaged 137 legislative days per calendar year since 2001.
So, things may take a while!
And finally, there's the question of whether Congress will approve TPP. I see both critics and supporters suggesting it will pass. Here's Gary Hufbauer again:
However, it seems more likely than not that TPP talks will roll to a conclusion within six to eight weeks, and Congressional ratification of TPP will probably happen just prior to the APEC Summit in the Philippines in November 2015.
Once the full text finally becomes public, I expect a full-court press from anti-TPP forces in both parties. I'd give it a 90 percent chance of passage at this point, but there's still a glimmer of hope for opponents.
As for me, I'm not sure TPP's chances are so good. It is true that the TPP will be largely the same, in terms of its substance, as prior FTAs that Congress approved, but I think the circumstances have changed due to the size of the agreement (that is, the amount of trade covered). People are taking notice of the TPP in a way they did not for smaller FTAs passed in recent years. As a result, there will likely be a vigorous debate on issues that have been mostly obscure and unnoticed in the past.
For example, many people -- mainly, but not only, liberals -- have been raising concerns about IP and ISDS provisions. And on the other side, conservatives are more aware of sovereignty and free market issues in trade agreements than they used to be (think of labor and environmental regulation). What I think this will mean is a nuanced and interesting debate, with uncertain results.
(Of course, 80% of the debate will likely be the usual nonsense. But if we get 20% insightful commentary, I will consider it a success!)