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Obama's 'State of the Union' downplays TPPA

30 January 2014

For immediate release

Obama's 'State of the Union' downplays TPPA and Fast Track on Slow Burner, time to suspend the negotiations

‘If trade ministers from the countries negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) were looking for a signal from President Obama in yesterday’s State of the Union address that he was serious about cutting a deal, they will be sorely disappointed’, said Professor Jane Kelsey who is monitoring the secretive negotiations.

Obama did not even mention the TPPA by name, referring generally to ‘new trade partnerships with Europe and the Asia-Pacific’ that would help create more jobs.

And there was no rallying cry for Congress to grant him ‘fast track’ authority so other countries would have confidence to sign a deal, just a like-warm call ‘to work together on tools like bipartisan trade promotion authority’.

‘This was no oversight’, according to Kelsey. ‘There has been enormous pressure from all sides in the lead-up to this speech, and the low-profile approach is seen as a signal that Obama thinks he cannot deliver’.

The momentum has dropped away from the negotiations since a high-profile ministerial meeting in Singapore last December claimed to be close to a deal. Ministers reportedly do not want to meet again unless they can guarantee an outcome.

According to Professor Kelsey, there seem to be two barriers to concluding the negotiations. One is substantive. Unless the US and Japan can reach agreement on market access for automobiles and agriculture, no other country is prepared to make any definitive commitments. If the US and Japan can agree, the substantive deal could conclude very quickly.

The second reason is that Obama does not have Fast Track, otherwise called Trade Promotion Authority. Without that, the other eleven countries, including the already reluctant Japan, have no assurance he can deliver.

A Bill proposing Fast Track was tabled several weeks ago, without a Democrat sponsor in the House of Representatives. It has hit a number of rocks.

A principal champion in the Senate Max Baucus, who chairs the Finance Committee, has been nominated as Ambassador in China and will leave shortly.

Today, Senate Majority Leader Harry M Reid declared himself opposed Fast Track, saying ‘Everyone would be well-advised not to push this right now’. According to Politico: ‘The majority leader’s position essentially kills the president’s trade push this Congress, given that Reid controls the floor schedule.’

Members of the House of Representatives up for re-election later this year just received a letter from 500 labor, environmental and consumer advocacy groups urging them not to approve Fast Track.

‘Whatever happens between the US and Japan, there seems no prospect of Fast Track, and hence no chance of a deliverable deal before the end of the year - unless governments are going to gamble on Congressional approval of the final treaty. It is time for them to stop wasting money and formally suspend the negotiations’ said Kelsey.


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