President Obama proclaimed that the 12-nation Pacific Rim free trade pact made public Thursday is the “highest-standard trade agreement in history,” but opponents seized on specific provisions to argue that the final deal does not live up to promises.
The administration hoped that the full release of the thousands of pages of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), after years of negotiations behind closed doors, would help persuade wavering lawmakers to support the president’s effort to rewrite the rules of trade and investment in a sprawling region to benefit the U.S. economy.
But a wide range of critics — from Ford Motor Co. to environmental groups — said Thursday that seeing the entire text of the deal for the first time only confirmed many of their worst suspicions. The continued opposition of these groups underscores the steep challenge Obama faces in order to win the pact’s ratification in Congress before his term expires.
“I know that past trade agreements haven’t always lived up to the hype. That’s what makes this trade agreement so different, and so important,” Obama wrote in a blog post. “If you take a look at what’s actually in the TPP, you will see that this is, in fact, a new type of trade deal that puts American workers first.”
The next step is for congressional leaders to schedule a vote, but even Republicans who have been supportive of Obama’s trade push reacted cautiously Thursday and gave few clues as to when the deal might be considered.
“Enactment of TPP is going to require the administration to fully explain the benefits of this agreement and what it will mean for American families,” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) said in a statement. “I continue to reserve judgement on the path ahead. But I remain hopeful that our negotiators reached an agreement that the House can support because a successful TPP would mean more good jobs for American workers and greater U.S. influence in the world.”
Shortly after the text was released, Obama formally notified Congress of his intent to sign the agreement, but he must wait 90 days before doing so under the terms of the “fast-track” trade powers that lawmakers granted him in the spring. This authority allows the deal to be considered without threat of amendments or filibuster.
White House aides said they were fearful that any delays could jeopardize the carefully negotiated agreement with countries, including Canada, Mexico and Australia, that account for about 36 percent of the world’s gross domestic product.
The political climate around the 2016 presidential campaign — with several leading candidates on both sides publicly opposing the deal — could persuade lawmakers to delay a vote until after the general election or even until a new president takes office.
“We don’t believe that Congress should wait a year before acting,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said, “but we are respectful of the need to give time to Congress and to the American public to consider the details.”
Obama has said the deal includes the strongest and most enforceable provisions to protect workers and the environment of any trade deal in history and is far stronger than past U.S. deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993.
For example, the agreement calls for a phaseout of subsidies some governments now give operators in fisheries that are either overfished or overcapacity, as well as an end to subsidies for vessels engaged in illegal fishing. The parties to the treaty account for a quarter of the global seafood trade, and countries such as Japan have traditionally helped offset the cost of fishing for their domestic industry.
But the Sierra Club blasted the environmental chapter, calling it “toxic” and “rife with polluter giveaways that would undermine decades of environmental progress, threaten our climate and fail to adequately protect wildlife because big polluters helped write the deal. The words ‘climate change’ don’t even appear in the text.”
John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, said special enforcement plans between the United States and Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei lack strong enough measures to ensure those nations will comply with new rules to allow collective bargaining and outlawing forced labor.
“What you need is a government that’s incentivized to go after forced labor by enforcing the laws they already have,” Sifton said. “That’s what’s not happening that needs to happen, and nothing in the consistency plan obligates Malaysia to do that.”
Cigarette companies are angry about a last-minute compromise that denies them access to a new international dispute-settlement panel that would allow multinationals to pursue damages against TPP nations that hurt their profits by altering policies. And the pharmaceutical industry has objected to a compromise that limits patent-style protection on the data underlying the creation of next-generation biologic drugs to about eight years instead of the 12 they currently receive in the United States.
Ford Motor Co. denounced the terms governing currency manipulation, which are not contained in the main agreement but are separate guidelines issued by the U.S. Treasury Department.
“The currency forum does nothing to change the status quo,” the company said in a statement. “It falls outside of TPP, and it fails to include dispute settlement mechanisms to ensure global rules prohibiting currency manipulation are enforced.”
Opposition groups have complained about the secrecy of the negotiations, which have spanned several years. But David Adelman, who served from 2009 to 2013 as U.S. ambassador to Singapore, which is among the 12 TPP nations, said the final agreement shows there “are no big surprises in the text. Much of this has been debated as a matter of policy over the last few years. That’s a good thing.
“The deal is a winner for American interests,” Adelman added. “There are always trade-offs in a negotiation. As the debate matures, I hope American politicians, and the U.S. Congress in particular, do not allow the perfect to become the enemy of the good.”
But Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers, said that “the devil is in the details” and that an initial review by his group has concluded that the TPP is “a knife in the heart of manufacturing.”
In a glossy rollout, the administration distributed slick brochures touting 18,000 tariff reductions on U.S.-made beef, pork, dairy, automobiles and apparel as a centerpiece of the agreement, opening new markets for American exporters to nations ranging from Japan to Vietnam. Some of the tariffs are reduced immediately, but others are phased in over several years.
The accord also aims to extend copyright protections for Hollywood entertainment studios and Silicon Valley Internet firms, efforts Obama has said will help the United States maintain a global edge in high-tech industries.
The Motion Picture Association of America praised the deal, saying it “reaffirms what we have long understood — that strengthening copyright is integral to America’s creative community and to facilitating legitimate international commerce.”
Mike DeBonis and Lydia DePillis contributed to this report.