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Why the rush on TPP? asks US critic

Why the rush on TPP? asks US critic

By Pattrick Smellie

Jan. 27 (BusinessDesk) - An American campaigner against the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade and investment agreement is asking "why does New Zealand have its pants on fire" to pass legislation implementing the deal when there is no guarantee it will survive the American political process.

Speaking in Wellington at a media briefing organised by the Green Party, Lori Wallach of Washington DC-based Global Trade Watch said the New Zealand government's arrangement of a signing ceremony on Feb. 4 in Auckland, involving the trade ministers of the 12 nation pact, and the intention to introduce legislation allowing various changes to implement it were part of a wider attempt by sponsoring governments to create "a stampede of inevitability" about the TPP's eventual adoption.

However, Wallach said the TPP faced an uphill battle being endorsed by both the US House of Representatives and the Senate, with the tiny majority achieved for President Barack Obama's 'fast track' process already falling apart and key US politicians seeking to reopen negotiations to get greater protections for the US tobacco and pharmaceutical industries.

Unless the US or Japan endorse the pact, it cannot be implemented under the deal signed by trade ministers after marathon talks in November.

Two key Senators, Mitch McConnell and Orrin Hatch, with links to the tobacco and pharmaceutical industries respectively, had the capacity to derail the TPP as currently written, said Wallach. They were seeking to secure a guaranteed eight year protection for US-developed, new generation biologic drugs, instead of the five claimed by Australia and New Zealand, and the tobacco lobby was working to overturn provisions in TPP that preserve the right of governments to regulate against tobacco use without fear of being sued by tobacco companies.

Wallach suggested the only high-polling US presidential candidates who supported TPP was Democratic nomination hopeful Hillary Clinton.

"She would love to pass it," said Wallach, but she had made it a bottom line that the agreement include concrete provisions against currency manipulation that she doubted countries like Japan or Malaysia would accept.

There were precedents, including the recently implemented US-Korea free trade agreement where Korea had passed legislation to enact the agreement, but had been forced to amend law changes after the US insisted on renegotiating elements that were derailed by US domestic political considerations on Capitol Hill.

Wallach also claimed that TPP was an unusually uniting issue in usually divided American politics, with presidential candidates of both left and right opposing it.

While there was a "legislative window" around June this year when the US Congress might consider the TPP legislation, under the fast-track process, President Obama could only send it to a vote once, meaning he would not risk it if defeat appeared possible.

The next opportunity to try and let TPP go forward would be in early 2017, after the presidential election and before the next president is sworn in, during the so-called "lame duck' session of the "fired and retired". However, TPP would only be advanced if a Democratic president was elected. A Republican winner wouldn't want to "do any Obama stuff", Wallach said. In that case, a lame duck vote on TPP rated about 50/50 likelihood, she said.


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