Finishing the treaty — not to mention winning congressional approval — will be no easy task.
The trade talks have touched off vigorous opposition from a broad range of interest groups and companies and have drawn protests from members of Congress. Negotiators have been criticized for not revealing more of the proposed treaty to the public.
There are disputes brewing over regulation of Internet commerce — groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation argue that the treaty may go beyond what’s been settled under U.S. law — and pharmaceutical patents and pricing. As the Lansdowne talks proceeded, Maine state representative Sharon Treat monitored them from the resort’s lobby, concerned that the Trans-Pacific Partnership might prevent state governments from negotiating better rates from drug and biotech companies.
There are still deep divisions among the countries involved, and U.S. domestic interests may clash as well. The Sweetener Users Association, a coalition of major food and beverage companies, hopes the trade negotiations lead to the elimination of import restrictions that protect U.S. sugar producers. The country’s small footwear industry opposes lowering tariffs on imported shoes, a levy that shoe importers want lifted.
The issue prompted U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk to visit the New Balance shoe plant in Norridgewock, Maine, last week, where executives said the tariffs protect the company’s 1,350 shoe-making jobs.
“A TPP with Vietnam imperils our ability to keep making footwear in this country,” said company spokesman Matt LeBretton. “People are tripping over themselves to get to Vietnam. There is no need to give them an additional advantage.”
But given the stakes — with administration officials calling it a “gold standard” agreement integral to their Asia policy — domestic trade-offs may well be required.
Why expect Vietnam to start dismantling stated-owned enterprises or ask New Zealand to change its drug pricing if the United States restricts its sugar imports or keeps a tax on imported sneakers? U.S. officials say they are determined to bring the trade deal to completion and say that the disputes emerging now are a sign that the talks have reached bedrock.
“We are going to have to solve a lot of issues to bring this over the finish line, but there is unanimous consensus to keep the momentum,” said Demetrios Marantis, deputy U.S. trade representative. “We are that advanced, we are getting to the hard stuff.”