Three more major U.S. business groups came out in support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership this week after several months of close scrutiny. The groups said they hope Congress will pass the TPP by the end of 2016 but acknowledged that key changes will have to be made for that to happen.
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National Association of Manufacturers President and CEO Jay Timmons called the TPP “a significant improvement over the status quo” and said it “will substantially increase opportunities for the export and sale of U.S.-manufactured goods” in the Asia-Pacific region. Business Roundtable International Engagement Committee Chair Tom Linebarger agreed, adding that TPP “is a trade agreement for the modern, global economy that includes provisions related to digital commerce and trade in services, fair competition with state-owned enterprises, intellectual property rights and investment protections, and labor and environmental standards.” U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Donohue asserted that the TPP will affect “not only the Asia-Pacific region but … future trade agreements as well.”
At the same time, all three officials recognize that TPP is “not perfect” and that improvements are needed to secure congressional approval. They urged the White House to work closely with industry, congressional leaders and other TPP governments to quickly address the “principled objections” that have been raised, which appear to center on a handful of issues such as market access, intellectual property protections for biologics and investor-state dispute settlement. However, none of the three specified how these concerns should be addressed. TPP partners have generally opposed the idea of reopening the agreement for fear of upsetting the careful balance of obligations negotiated over several years.
In the meantime, the 12 TPP countries are expected to formally sign the agreement Feb. 4 in New Zealand. Supporters are hoping to follow that up with the introduction of implementing legislation in the U.S. Congress, which would trigger a statutory timeline ending in an up-or-down vote. However, that legislation cannot be introduced until the International Trade Commission issues a report on the agreement’s anticipated economic effect, which may not happen until mid-May. In addition, key lawmakers have warned the administration against trying to move TPP legislation before a lame duck session of Congress following this November’s elections.