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Obama Administration Signals Intent to Pursue Congressional TPP Vote This Year

Tuesday, August 16, 2016
Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg Trade Report

The White House sent to Congress Aug. 12 a draft statement of administrative action outlining the statutory changes and administrative actions that would be necessary to implement the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a wide-ranging free trade agreement with 11 other countries that was signed this past February. According to press sources, this move appears to be a signal that the Obama administration will continue to push for Congress to vote on implementing legislation after this November’s elections despite the opposition to the pact proclaimed by both presidential candidates and a number of lawmakers.

The administration will be able to submit draft implementing legislation to Congress beginning 30 days after the submission of the draft SAA but is unlikely to do so in the current political climate. House and Senate leaders have made clear that any such bill would be rejected unless changes are made to certain TPP provisions, including those on intellectual property protection for biologic drugs, dispute settlement, and storage of financial data. The White House and lawmakers have reportedly been working to resolve concerns without reopening the agreement, which TPP signatories have generally said is a non-starter, but there has been little public indication of progress. If and when a draft measure is sent to Capitol Hill it would likely undergo “mock markups” intended to highlight areas where members of Congress, who under the trade promotion authority law approved last year cannot amend a final bill implementing a trade agreement, would like to see changes.

Assuming an implementing bill is ultimately submitted, its potential fate remains uncertain. Administration officials have been assiduously courting support for TPP among businesses, fence-sitting lawmakers and others, and one recent poll showed that public support for TPP is increasing the more the agreement is discussed in the ongoing political campaigns. That may or may not be enough to provide cover for Congress to approve TPP, which as a symbol of the perceived ills of globalization and trade liberalization has come under sustained attack by both major presidential candidates as well as a sizeable number of congressional candidates on both sides of the aisle.

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