US President Barack Obama’s goal of signing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade agreement between 12 countries that encompasses 40 percent of the global economy, is closely tied to a vote by the US House of Representatives on Friday.
The House will hold the final vote on “fast track” on Friday, a bill (HR 1314) that would let lawmakers set negotiating objectives for trade deals, but restrict the vote to a “yes” or “no” on the finished agreement.
With the fast track negotiating authority for trade agreements, also known as trade promotion authority (TPA), the US president can negotiate international agreements which the Congress can approve or disapprove but cannot amend or filibuster.
The fast track authority is considered essential for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement to be signed between Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam.
In a reversal of party lines, President Barack Obama has the support of Republicans who favour free trade agreements, but not all, as some are wary of giving the Obama administration more power and allowing the president to achieve such a major political feat.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is in favour of the bill. “A yes vote would be a huge win for conservatives, free-market principles and American leadership,” he wrote in an editorial published on Thursday in the Washington Examiner. “Many of the president’s critics are rightly concerned that he too often keeps Congress in the dark. But [the fast track measure] will turn on the lights.”
Democrats are concerned that the TPP would result in more jobs being outsourced from the United States. Labour unions and activists are against the TPP and fast track.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), says fast track would “rush approval for secret anti-user trade deals” such as the TPP “by limiting full congressional debate and prohibiting any changes to [the text of any such deals].”
Only 20 out of 188 Democratic members of the House have publicly promised to support the bill on Friday, Voice of America reported. A democratic aide told Reuters that 26 Democrats were ready to vote “yes,” with another four leaning that way.
Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) told the Wall Street Journal on Thursday that he had not yet decided on how he would vote, and that Obama had called him a few times to discuss the topic.
“It’s a tough vote for me because my district’s very trade-dependent, but there’s a lot of fear about what happens if we vote for TPA,” he said.
The Senate has already approved fast track with a vote of 62 to 37 in May, but the House vote is expected to be much closer. The House voted 217-212 on Thursday to allow debate and votes on Friday on the bill.
Friday will see the House voting on two critical fast track issues: one on the portion on the Senate bill offering help to workers displaced by trade, and one on the fast track trade authority.
The catch is the worker-aid portion: if the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) programme is defeated, the fast track vote would not be held. This fact has led to lobbyist to double their efforts to convince lawmakers to support both measures.
In a joint press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe late April, Obama addressed concerns and criticisms against the TPP but firmly stated his support for the agreement.
“This will end up being the most progressive bill in history. It will have the kinds of labor and environmental and human rights protections that have been absent in previous agreements. It’s going to be enforceable. It’s going to open markets that currently are not fully open to US businesses. It’s going to be good for the US economy,” he said.