Saturday, February 1, 2014

TTIP: Cautious optimism despite resistance in Congress

My latest op-ed goes over some of the politicking around the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP, which could provide a historical boost to the economic ties that bind the U.S. and Europe.

But that's only if TTIP passes. President Obama spent some time on the trade agenda in this week's State of the Union address. Yet the very next day, leaders of his own party, including Harry Reid, the House of Representatives' Majority Leader, came out against it. The op-ed's subtitle (which I did not write) points the finger at conservative Members of Congress and thought leaders, but many in the Democratic party have opposed the bill on grounds that it will threaten labor and environmental interests, among other concerns.

What's at stake is an intermediary piece of legislation whose passage would open the doors of opportunity for TTIP, as well as for a U.S.-Asian trade deal that is also in the works. Called the Trade Promotion Authority, or "Fast Track" for short, the new framework would guarantee expedient passage so that TTIP could move more easily through Congress. The problem is, more expedient means no amending the bill. Some American lawmakers are loath to grant this kind of carte blanche to Fast Track, while if they don't, Europeans will not likely negotiate in good faith. And why would they? If anything they agree might be subject to change by Washington, wouldn't you hedge your bets, too?

Here are a few of the reasons I see a mandate for cautious optimism in forthcoming TTIP processes on the U.S. side:

"Hailed by some as potentially the largest trade agreement in history, TTIP would reduce trade barriers by enacting a non-tariff paradigm in which myriad public- and private-sector players could spur growth, create jobs, and do business in markets previously inaccessible.
"TTIP’s promises have not won all hearts, however. Detractors see the deal as a menace to their own interests, even to national sovereignty. TTIP could also fail on purely procedural grounds: given recent resistance to legislation on the “Fast Track” Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) framework, the US Congress inspires only mild confidence.
...
"Strategically, the potential benefit is just as strong: TTIP would establish a Western-oriented economic system of consequence, push the fallout of the 2008 financial crisis decisively into the past and provide the most unified transatlantic response to global competition in decades.
"Yet, detractors pose significant obstacles to the deal’s passage. TTIP’s opponents hail from a broad spectrum of interest groups and experts, some of whom warn against any compromise of national sovereignty.
"Instead, organizations like the Heritage Foundation vouch for “mutual recognition rather than regulatory harmonization,” which would rule out the possibility of a “transatlantic managed market” seen as detrimental to US economic and political autonomy. Likewise, advocates for labor unions, farm subsidies and intellectual property stipulations have each expressed reservations that threaten a comprehensive transatlantic trade program.
"Hurdles in the US Congress could also pose challenges, which means international-level concerns may be moot if the United States fails to rally consensus at home. A bipartisan group in the US House of Representatives has voiced opposition to new TPA legislation, saying they are not being consulted adequately on the negotiations underway, and that a new TPA might deny Congress its constitutional right to review trade agreements.
"In December 2013, 194 House members from the same group signed a letter to President Obama expressing their view that “Fast Track is simply not appropriate for 21st century agreements and must be replaced.” If the number of members of Congress opposed to TTIP should grow, odds for the deal’s passage will shrink proportionally."

Here's hoping.

1 comment: