WASHINGTON — The Obama administration took a procedural step on the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal Friday, sending a draft statement of administrative action to Congress that lays out the changes needed to U.S. law under the trade deal.
While the step was welcomed by industry officials, it doesn’t indicate whether the administration will take the significant step of sending TPP-implementing legislation to Congress.
The action incrementally advanced TPP along a procedural timeline by establishing a minimum of 30 calendar days by which the administration can now submit TPP legislation to Congress. Until there is a stronger sign of an emerging consensus on TPP, though, the administration is unlikely to send the implementing legislation to Congress, officials said.
TPP includes the U.S., Australia, Japan, Mexico, Canada, Vietnam, Malaysia, Peru, Singapore, Chile, Brunei and New Zealand and would encompass nearly 40 percent of the world’s gross domestic product.
The chances of passing the sweeping trade deal in a lame duck session of Congress this year still appear slim.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican candidate Donald Trump reiterated their strong opposition to TPP in economic policy speeches this week. Clinton in particular voiced opposition to a post-election TPP vote.
President Obama and several cabinet members have joined forces with former officials and key business groups to garner support for TPP, which is seen as a potential component of Obama’s legacy. It will ultimately be up to the leaders in Congress to bring the controversial trade deal up for a vote this year and both Senate and Republican leaders have expressed concerns about TPP and indicated the votes are not there to approve it.
In addition, trade experts have pointed to growing numbers of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle stating opposition to TPP. But business groups and former and present trade officials have vowed to continue fighting for TPP and seek to give it momentum this year.
Stephen Lamar, executive vice president at the American Apparel & Footwear Association, said: “It is a strong indication the administration is serious about taking up TPP this year and about presenting an implementing bill Congress. It doesn’t guarantee it will happen because there still needs to be a lot of work done by the Congressional leadership to pave the way for a vote.”
Julia Hughes, president at the U.S. Fashion Industry Association, said it is a “way to keep the conversation going and I think that is important.”
“It is a very positive step,” Hughes said. “We are all pretty happy to have something positive to talk about. The fact is this is some progress when in some ways these have been the darkest days for trade with the continued antitrade rhetoric from the presidential candidates and indeed from other interest groups as well.”
“It is hard to find anybody except a few die-hard members of Congress who will say much positive about trade,” she added. “This gives us a chance to talk about the substance again and I think that’s a good thing.”