NEW YORK – As President Obama begins his weeklong trip to Asia, he once again is pushing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the free-trade treaty his administration has been negotiating behind closed doors without congressional input or approval.
Senior administration officials made clear that no deal has been reached.
“A political push is often important. There is no substitute for that,” they told reporters traveling with President Obama. “This is not an agreement that is about to get signed. This will take a period to finish off some of the difficult issues.”
TPP has been described as the largest-ever economic treaty, encompassing 12 participating nations representing more than 40 percent of the world’s gross domestic product. It’s the frontrunner to the equally secret Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TIPP, between the U.S. and the European Union. In February 2013, WND reported the Obama administration planned to ask Congress to grant fast-track authority to finalize the TPP treaty in an accelerated time frame. Congress would be limited to an up-or-down vote that would prevent it from modifying the treaty by amendment.
At a TPP meeting Monday in Beijing before the start of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings, Obama was upbeat.
“The Transpacific Partnership is a high priority for our nations and for the region,” he said at the outset of the meeting, held at the U.S. Embassy. “As president, strengthening American leadership in the Asia-Pacific region has been one of my top foreign policy priorities.”
Obama made clear he did not expect the meeting to come to a final agreement.
“What we are seeing is momentum building around a transpacific partnership that can spur greater economic growth, spur greater jobs growth,” Obama said.
“During the past few weeks, our teams have made good progress at resolving several outstanding issues,” he continued. “Today is an opportunity, at the political level, to break some of the remaining log jams.”
Obama also said it’s important for “people back home” to understand the benefits of such a trade agreement. The comment was an apparent reference to the growing resistance the Obama administration has faced from within the ranks of the Democratic Party, spearheaded by labor unions that see the treaty as a threat to jobs.
“It’s up to all of use to see if we can finalize a deal that’s both ambitious and comprehensive,” Obama said. “This has the potential to be a historic agreement.”
The final communiqué confirmed a final agreement has not been reached.
“We, the Leaders of Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, United States, and Vietnam, welcome the significant progress in recent months, as reported to us by our Ministers, that sets the stage to bring these landmark Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations to conclusion,” the Trans-Pacific Partnership Leaders’ Statement said.
“We are encouraged that Ministers and negotiators have narrowed the remaining gaps on the legal text of the agreement and that they are intensively engaging to complete ambitious and balanced packages to open our markets to one another, in accordance with the instructions we gave them in Bali a year ago,” the statement continued.
“With the end coming into focus, we have instructed our Ministers and negotiators to make concluding this agreement a top priority so that our businesses, workers, farmers, and consumers can start to reap the real and substantial benefits of the TPP agreement as soon as possible.”
North American integration
As WND reported, without much fanfare, the White House has wrapped Mexico and Canada into the TPP negotiations as a continuation of an effort regarded by critics as a move toward a European Union-style integration of North America.
WND reported the leaders of the U.S., Canada and Mexico simply announced March 23, 2005, the formation of the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America, the SPP. In 2009, as WND reported, the Obama administration renamed the SPP the North American Leaders Summit, a less controversial banner under which to advance the George W. Bush administration’s agenda of North American integration, according to confidential sources in the U.S. Department of Commerce and the State Department who spoke to WND under condition of anonymity.
The last tri-lateral head-of-state meeting of the North American Leaders Summit was held in April 2012.
Two months later, in a notice published on the U.S. Trade Representative website at USTR.gov, Ambassador Ron Kirk announced that Mexico had decided to join the TPP negotiations.
“We are delighted to invite Mexico, our neighbor and second largest export market, to join the TPP negotiations,” said Kirk. “Mexico’s interest in the TPP reflects its recognition that the TPP presents the most promising pathway to boosting trade across the Asia Pacific and to encouraging regional trade integration. We look forward to continuing consultations with the Congress and domestic stakeholders as we move forward.”
Three days later, with similar language, the USTR announced Canada had decided to join the TPP negotiations:
Kirk said inviting Canada to join the TPP negotiations “presents a unique opportunity for the United States to build upon this already dynamic trading relationship.”
“Through TPP, we are bringing the relationship with our largest trading partner into the 21st century,” he said. “We look forward to continuing consultations with the Congress and domestic stakeholders regarding Canada’s entry into the TPP as we move closer to a broad-based, high-standard trade agreement in the Asia-Pacific region.”
Democrats block TPP in Congress
With Democratic Party resistance to TPP stiffening, the Obama administration push to get it ratified by the Senate has languished, with Democrat leaders failing to bring “fast-track authority” up for a vote in either the House or the Senate.
In January, WND was first to report House Republicans were preparing to follow the lead of the White House and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to rubber-stamp the TPP.
In a little-noticed press release in January, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., together with ranking member Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Dave Camp R-Mich., announced they were introducing fast-track trade legislation.
However, WND reported an impressive group of 564 labor, environmental, family farm and community organizations regarded as core elements of the Democratic Party’s voting base sent Obama a strongly worded letter charging the TPP undermines the president’s message on income inequality.
House Democrats, pressured by labor union constituents, argued the massive TPP deal would require capitulation to corporate interest groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, placing under international control important U.S. environmental, public-health and labor standards.
Already, 151 House Democrats, led by Reps. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and George Miller, D-Calif., had written a letter to Obama stating their opposition to fast-track authority.
GOP congressional leaders, in supporting the Obama administration on TPP, have ignored conservative objections to the massive new trade pact.
On Jan. 29, WND reported fully 68 percent of GOP respondents nationwide and an overwhelming 74 percent of GOP conservatives said they were “less likely” to vote for a member of Congress who supported giving Obama fast-track negotiating authority on TPP.