Yesterday the US Senate dealt another blow to the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). It’s too soon to say if it will be terminal. Already Obama’s wingmen – led by Republicans – are plotting a way back.
I want to make it absolutely clear this was not a vote on the TPPA itself.
Nor was it a vote to give or deny the President Fast Track authority, where Congress agrees to tie its own hands and adopt the final deal on a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote, within a limited time.
It was a vote to have a vote in the Senate that couldn’t be filibustered by legislators who opppose Fast Track and the TPPA.
Obama needed 60 votes from the 100 Senate members. He got 52. Only one was a Democrat!
The situation is now quite desperate. The first vote on a Fast Track bill is actually meant to be in the House. They started in the Senate because there is even less support in the House and Obama needed to create the impression that something was happening.
The twelve countries’ ministers are due to meet in Guam from 26 to 28 May, after their APEC forum in the Philippines. They need to do the political trade-offs and close the deal. June is considered the deadline if they are to get something to Congress before it goes on its August recess.
But a number of countries, notably Japan and Canada, have said they will not make any final commitments unless the US President has Fast Track authority.
Groser said on National Radio that New Zealand – meaning he – would have been prepared to reach a deal without Fast Track (and leave the outcome to the whims of Congress members beholden to corporate lobbies). That’s not the impression he and Key gave several months ago, and another good reason not to ‘trust me’.
Even if Obama’s Republican team can do a Lazarus number in the Senate there is no way they can get Fast Track in the next 12 days. The ministerial looks like becoming a wake.
The Senate vote shows how toxic the TPPA and Fast Track have become with the President’s own Party, about a year and a half from a presidential election. While lots of Republicans in Congress (and some Democrats) are paid lackeys for the corporate lobby, a lot of Democrats oppose the TPPA because it’s a deal for the 1%.
There are other deal-breakers, including demands to couple it with a bill to support to workers adversely affected by the impact of free trade agreements, and for ‘disciplines on currency control’ to be included in the TPPA – something that Japan and Malaysia could never agree to.
Two actions in the past week probably made the vote even worse than Obama’s team expected.
First, Obama alienated fellow Democrats in a TV interview to promote the TPPA by launching a personal attack on highly respected Senator and TPPA critic Elizabeth Warren, as being ill informed and politically motivated.
Warren has led the charge on re-regulating Wall Street after the GFC and was particularly incensed at being unable to access text that would potentially derail those attempts.
She struck back in an oped in the Boston Globe on 11 May, co-written with Rosa de Lauro, a Democrat Member of the House. These were two very pissed off, very powerful women.
Their piece was entitled ‘Who is writing the TPP?’ Their answer: the 28 trade advisory committees that have been intimately involved in the negotiations have 566 members; 480 of them, or 85 percent, are senior corporate executives or representatives from industry lobbying groups. Many of the committees are made up entirely of industry representatives.
‘A rigged process leads to a rigged outcome.’
Which led them to Fast Track: ‘Congress will soon vote on whether to enact “fast-track” authority to grease the skids for the approval of the TPP and other upcoming trade deals. If fast-track passes, Congress will have given up its power to strip out any backroom arrangements and special favors like ISDS without tanking the whole deal that contains those giveaways. We will have also given up our right to strip out whatever other special favors industry can bury in new trade agreements – not just in the TPP, but in potential trade deals for the next six years.’
The lobbyists had been spending up large ‘to bend Washington’s rules to benefit themselves, and now they want Congress to grease the skids for a TPP deal that corporations have helped write but the public can’t see — and for six years of future agreements that haven’t even been written.’
Message to Obama, loud and clear. Received and understood? Probably not.
But Obama made it worse. For some inexplicable reason (at least to our friends in Washington) he decided to deliver his cheerleading speech about the benefits to the US of Fast Track and TPPA at a Nike factory. About the worst symbolism you could imagine.
Obama now faces a real rebellion in the ranks and will have to assess the political risks of continuing to pursue the Fast Track Bill and the TPPA as the US moves closer towards a presidential election.
The current signs are that the Republicans will now take charge and try to rescue a lame duck Democrat president from his own party.
Will they go ahead with the ministerial meeting on 26th May? Holding a formal meeting of ministers will make their failure to cement a deal all too visible.
At the same time, they will need to save face, and make a collective decision about what to do next.
My advice is that the TPPA ministers should treat the Senate vote as more evidence that there is no support for this controversial deal, even in the country that stands to benefit most.
There will be some actions for people to take about the ministerial, if it proceeds. Keep your eye on www.itsourfuture.org.nz.