How The Presidential Election Could Endanger Obama’s Big Trade Deal

The prospect of a President Trump makes it even more urgent to pass the TPP in 2016, a senior White House official says.

28/01/2016 10:36 AM AEDT | Updated 28/01/2016 10:45 AM AEDT
Nicholas Kamm/Getty Images
President Barack Obama speaks about the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. The White House is worried that the next president will not push for the TPP.

Leading presidential candidates' opposition to President Barack Obama’s signature trade agreement is jeopardizing the landmark deal, according to a senior White House official.

The 11 Pacific Rim nations negotiating with the Obama administration over the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement are reportedly wary of how the next president will treat the accord, which proposes to reduce or eliminate tariffs on goods and services and streamline regulations between the trading nations.

The TPP signatories “follow our politics very closely -- as virtually everybody else does anywhere in the world,” the official, who requested anonymity, told reporters on Wednesday in a briefing hosted by the Business Roundtable, an association of corporate CEOs that supports the agreement.

He indicated that they're paying special attention to Republican front-runner Donald Trump -- who called the TPP a "terrible deal" and has expressed his opposition to trade deals more broadly.

Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) also oppose the trade deal.

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Presidential hopeful Donald Trump has made his opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal a centerpiece of his campaign.

The official also implied that the administration is concerned that if the TPP agreement doesn't get approved by Congress by the end of the year, it may not go through at all.

“All of that underscores that they would like to see us get this done and get it through Congress at the earliest possible opportunity,” he said.

The prospect of getting the trade deal through Congress in 2016, however, appears dim. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and has the power to prevent the agreement from reaching the Senate floor, has expressed strong opposition to the deal in its present form.

Hatch, who objects to provisions that would allow patents on medicines made from naturally occurring organisms to expire after eight years, has said the Obama administration may need to renegotiate the agreement to win his support -- something that Japan, a key TPP participant, has said is a non-starter.

The White House argues that the TPP will have economic benefits for every constituency in the country. A report released by the Peterson Institute earlier this week found that the accord would increase U.S. incomes by $131 billion in 2030 -- including a boost in the wages of unskilled workers.

If the U.S. does not ramp up trade with Pacific nations, China will be in a position to dominate the region economically and geopolitically, the White House official said.

William Miller, the senior vice president of the Business Roundtable, said that the business group would use its lobbying clout to push for the deal, as it did to help pass a law granting the president trade promotion authority in June. That authority allows the president to submit trade agreements for an up-or-down vote in Congress, without the possibility of amendments or a filibuster.

It is not clear what impact the business group’s blessing will have, given the skepticism toward the deal in both parties. In light of stagnant wages for the American middle class and rising skepticism toward elite institutions, think tank reports may not help lawmakers convince their constituents that the trade deal will benefit them.

The White House also faces the objections of influential advocacy groups and labor unions that believe that the agreement will empower corporations to challenge domestic labor, environmental, health and Internet freedom regulations.

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