President Obama’s top trade negotiator said on Tuesday that he is hopeful the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will be approved by Congress, during its upcoming lame duck session.
“If they bring it forward, I think we can get the votes there,” US Trade Representative Michael Froman said Tuesday, in an interview on CNBC. “This trade agreement eliminates 18,000 taxes on our exports,” Froman also claimed, “and members of Congress are starting to see that.”
The outlook contrasted with a more cautious tone struck in late September by Vice President Joe Biden.
During a speech at the Council of Foreign Relations in New York, Biden said the TPP has a “less than even chance” of being approved by Congress, between the election and the inauguration of the next president.
“Sometimes when there’s no election to face and people are leaving and others who are staying, they may see the wisdom of TPP,” Biden added.
The Vice President also stated that lame duck passage was the only “real shot” of getting the TPP enacted. Both Republican and Democratic Presidential nominees have come out against the deal.
Congressional leaders, however, appear in no great hurry to consider the TPP, despite Froman’s optimism. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) have repeatedly stated the deal won’t be brought up for a vote, with President Obama in the White House.
“Since they negotiate the deals and they send them up, the president is a big, big player in trade,” McConnell said in September. “If we were going to have another discussion about trade, it would have to be led by whoever the next president is.”
Democratic leaders, too, are not enthusiastic about an imminent TPP vote. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said this summer that she opposes the deal. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), meanwhile, said he believes the agreement won’t come up in the lame duck.
Critics of the TPP and sweeping trade agreements argue that they push deregulatory measures and create a “race to the bottom” between workers around the world—particularly in light of investor-state dispute resolution panels included in the deals.
The arbitration mechanisms only allow challenges to national laws from shareholders; union leaders, environmentalists, and public interest advocates, for example, are shut out from bringing litigation.
As Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has also noted, labor standards are routinely unenforced by US officials in recently passed trade deals, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA).
In a move that only seemed to strengthen this criticism, the Obama administration was caught in 2015 exerting unprecedented political pressure on career State Department officials to relax its assessment of human trafficking in Malaysia.
The move came after Congress passed a law designed to keep the worst labor abusers, per diplomatic assessments, out of trade agreements. Malaysia, a party to TPP, was subsequently upgraded from Tier 2 to Tier 3 in State’s annual Trafficking in Persons report. An outcry from observers and Senate Foreign Relations Committee leaders followed.
“I don’t see how anyone could believe there was integrity in this process,” Committee Chair Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said, of the upgrade.