October 15, 2015
Revisions to Trade Promotion Authority Shakes Foundation of TPP
Tokyo Shimbun reports that a bill to grant President Obama Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) adopted by the Senate Budget Committee includes a revision that would not grant TPA for TPP negotiations with countries that have not improved their record on human trafficking and forced labor.
TPA grants comprehensive authority to conduct trade negotiations. Congress cannot revise or object to whatever the President has negotiated using TPA. Without TPA, even if the President negotiates a TPP agreement with other countries, Congress has the power to object to any provision of the agreement. For trade negotiations that include so many different components, like those over the TPP, this means that Congress can significantly change the agreement. Tokyo Shimbun reports that TPA is necessary for the US to conclude negotiations over the TPP. According to a report by the State Department, some negotiating countries like Malaysia, are considered to be among the worst countries for human trafficking of women and children. The revision to TPA were made by Democratic Senator Menendez, who formerly chaired the Foreign Relations Committee.
A staff of Senator Menendez stated that this amendment to the TPA would prevent the U.S. from agreeing to allow Malaysia to participate in the TPP. If Malaysia is excluded from the deal, it is possible to proceed with the negotiations. However, Malaysia has negotiated on many issues since it joined the negotiation in 2010. In particular, Malaysia has often clashed with the US over intellectual property rights. Tokyo Shimbun claims that excluding Malaysia from the TPP at this late point could lead to dismantling of the TPP.
It is still possible to amend the version of the TPA approved by the Budget Committee on the floor of the Senate. However, it is politically dangerous for both Democrats and Republicans to trivialize human rights issues, so additional revisions to the TPA will not be easy.
In a press conference on April 23rd, Democratic Senator Brown mentioned that members who think that this will jeopardize TPP should work to amend the bill. He said that there are many ways that the bill could be amended.
Currently, there are twelve TPP member states aiming to reach an overall consensus in the negotiations by the end of May or June, which is expected to be after the finalization of TPA in the US.
In the previous negotiations, there were many revisions made at the request of Malaysia, especially on the provisions for state-owned firms and intellectual property rights. If Malaysia leaves the TPP negotiations at this point, then it will change fundamental portions of the negotiation. A Japanese government official said that it is impossible to remove Malasia from the negotiation at this point. It will take a long time for Malaysia to make serious improvements on its record on human trafficking and forced labor, especially in a way that the US would be able to see the improvements. Therefore, the revision to TPA made in the Senate Budget Committee is not a favorable development for those who want the TPP to be finalized quickly.
( April 24th, 2015 Tokyo Shimbun )