Obama to make one last push for TPP

Pact still possible because of delicate alliance with Republicans who control Congress

WASHINGTON • President Barack Obama is readying one final push for approval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the largest regional trade agreement, between the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim nations.

And though the odds may be long, a presidency defined by partisan stalemate may yet secure one last legacy - only because of Mr Obama's delicate alliance with the Republicans who control Congress.

"Both parties have candidates who have very strong rhetoric against trade," said Republican Kevin Brady, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which is responsible for trade.

"Nonetheless, we can't grow America's economy unless we are not merely buying American, but selling American all throughout the globe."

Still, he added, timing a vote "is absolutely dependent on support" for the pact. Although the administration's push will begin next month, no vote will occur before the Nov 8 presidential election.

Just as the White House and congressional Republican leaders mostly agree on the economic benefits of trade, they have parallel political interests in delaying debate.

Republicans do not want to provoke attacks from their presi- dential nominee Donald Trump, who called the TPP "a rape of our country", or hurt other Republican candidates.

Mr Obama does not want to make trouble for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who has struggled to persuade voters of her sincerity in switching from support of the pact to opposition.

Yet, the administration does not plan to forfeit hopes that Congress will approve the pact before Mr Obama leaves office on Jan 20.

Mr Obama will rejoin the debate during a trip to Asia from Sept 2 to 9. Cabinet officials will fan out to promote the accord, which would end 18,000 tariffs and other non-tariff barriers that Japan, Australia and the others have against US imports and services, and set new rules for labour and environmental practices.

A big focus will be on national security. Mr Obama has emphasised that the pact would expand US influence in the Asia-Pacific as a counterweight to China, which is not part of the pact. Among those who will hit the road will be Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defence Ash Carter.

Last week, with families making back-to-school purchases, the lobbying association for footwear companies circulated a report concluding that Americans could save US$4 billion (S$5.4 billion) on children's shoes if the TPP takes effect and cuts tariffs on imports from Vietnam and elsewhere.

Environmental and labour groups have been active, too, holding "Rock against the TPP" concerts and flying protest blimps outside lawmakers' offices. A chief complaint of Republicans and the pharmaceutical industry is that the TPP would undercut drugmakers' intellectual property protection on advanced drugs known as biologics.

"Those issues have to be addressed in a positive way before we can move forward," said Mr Brady. "But the White House really needs to pick up the pace if we are going to consider it this year."



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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 23, 2016, with the headline 'Obama to make one last push for TPP'. Subscribe