President Obama arrived in Japan yesterday. One of the issues that has been highlighted in the media is what his trip to Asia will mean for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations, which were supposed to conclude last year. Why is President Obama having such a hard time with the TPP? What needs to be done to get the TPP on track?
Here are some of the challenges with the TPP:
1. Lack of fast-track authority or trade promotion authority (see earlier post explaining fast-track authority) – The US Congress has voted against giving President Obama the authority to negotiate trade deals while limiting the US Congress to only voting up or down on the agreement without any amendments.
2. Failure of the US and Japan to reach a deal on sensitive issues such as agriculture and auto market access – Both sides have been unable to reach deal that would be viewed as not harming their most important industries while still opening their markets to foreign trade.
3. Minimal support from the public due to the secrecy surrounding the negotiations – A number of grassroots organizations have been highly critical of the lack of participation from civil society in the trade talks. Rather, as they have argued, large multinational corporations are able to play an influential role in the trade talks while other groups are shut out of the process.
1. More transparency – The only way to get support is to be more open and transparent about this huge trade deal.
2. Improve the message – I have attended talks where discussions about the TPP focus on geopolitical strategies and security. These discussions are often led by government officials and academics who speak in a highly technical language and throw out a lot of statistics. From my observations of the events that I have attended this year, the small and medium-sized business owners and consumers who are impacted by trade deals are rarely present. The message should be framed in a clear, elegant way so that different groups are not just told, but shown how the TPP and any other trade deal will truly be beneficial to them. The lack of such a message is the reason why the negative rhetoric about the TPP prevails. People can relate to the emphasis on the loss of jobs and the closure of businesses because of an inability to compete. It is harder to personally relate to arguments that the TPP is a “pivot to Asia” or that the TPP is a part of U.S. foreign policy toward the Asian region.
It will be interesting to see how U.S. trade officials spin the outcome of President Obama’s trip in terms of progress with the TPP.
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