April 29, 2015
The pomp and circumstance surrounding Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have gone off exactly as one would want them to be. Great smiling pictures of Prime Minister Abe shaking hands with President Obama, the beauty of an official state dinner and the importance of an address before at joint session of Congress.
But what is being swept under the diplomatic rug is the lack of any announcement of a major breakthrough in negotiations around the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The failure to reach a final accord during Prime Minister Abe’s visit is another reminder about the key sticking points that remain before TPP can be finished – and why “fast tracking” this underlying agreement before it’s finished and we can see the text is a bad idea.
“It appears the TPP is degenerating into a series of bilateral deals, with a US–Japan agreement at its core,” wrote Jayant Menon last summer. “The challenge is, when the time comes, to present a series of bilateral deals as if they were one comprehensive agreement. So look out for a lot of ‘transition periods’ and other loopholes.”
This reality led many TPP supporters to hope for some sort of big announcement to accompany this week’s visit by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to the United States, the first visit of a Japanese leader to Washington in nine years.
But like so many deadlines in the past, it was not to be.
“The fact that they couldn’t bring this together for the prime minister’s visit, I think it’s a missed opportunity,” said Mireya Solis, senior fellow and Japan expert at the Brookings Institution.
And it is telling that in the joint press conference neither Prime Minister Abe nor President Obama even tried to suggest that they were close to a final agreement. This stands in contrast to the cryptic statements of progress after previous big meetings.
“But given the extreme secrecy surrounding the TPP negotiations, it’s hard for anyone to truly know what to make of the declaration’s rosy spin on the progress that was made,” wrote Scott Harris last fall. “Similarly glowing declarations were made in Singapore inFebruary 2014 (‘we made further strides toward a final agreement’), and in December 2013 (‘we have made substantial progress toward completing the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement’) and Bali, Indonesia in October 2013 (‘Negotiators have made significant strides toward realizing each of the five defining features of this historic agreement.’) Of course, the Bali statement started with the words to TPP leaders, ‘Based on your instruction to seek to conclude the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement this year,’ which, with the benefit of hindsight, clearly didn’t work out as planned.”
Negotiating the TPP wasn’t even on the agenda, as it so often has been lacking from official agendas for a while now. You had to know it was a bad sign when TPP negotiators stopped holding “official” rounds of negotiations after the 20th such meeting all the way back in July of 2014. But that hasn’t stopped the negotiations from continuing to be held in secret as they had been for more than seven long years, from continuing.
Deadlines and target dates have been so regularly missed in the past that one has to wonder why Congress is now trying to fast track Fast Track for a trade bill that seems no closer to being completed than it dead when they missed the 2011 deadline, or the one in 2012, or again in 2013 and then again in 2014.
“We are supposed to vote on TPA, tie our hands and not vote on amendments, before we’ve seen what the [Trans-Pacific Partnership] is,”said New York Senator Chuck Schumer. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
And if you pay attention to what our trade “partners” are saying, it is clear that the blown deadlines are not going to deliver a better trade deal for American workers and families. But they are costing taxpayers more in travel costs for the controversial trade pact.
Take these warnings from just last year:
  • May 2014: America’s own ambassador to Malaysia, Joseph Y. Yun, said that TPP negotiations wouldn’t even come to an end until January 2017, making this rush to pass Fast Track useless. “Obama ends his term in 2017 and we are now in May 2014, so I think Obama has a lot of time. All countries have issues and I see the TPP would be concluded within Obama’s term, absolutely.”
  • September 2014: Doug Porter, chief economist at Bank of Montreal, said not to expect TPP until around 2017. “I’m not optimistic on those talks at least not over the next three years or so.”
  • November 2014: New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said the “window of opportunity” for TPP would close by July of August of 2015.
“We need to put the brakes on Fast Track and Trade Promotion Authority,” said Jason Stanford with the Coalition to Stop Fast Track. “Just like the TPP itself, there has been no transparency around TPA. And the U.S. is the only nation among the 12 TPP countries asking elected representatives to give up their constitutional responsibility to review and amend major trade deals through a Fast Track process. Every other government is preserving its right to read the text before speeding its adoption and we should demand the same treatment.”
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