Nov 5, 2015 by


By Vicki Needham –  THE HILL

The much-anticipated release of the final text of a sweeping Asia-Pacific trade agreement became a reality on Thursday morning, kicking off what is expected to amount to months of intensive debate on Capitol Hill.

The U.S. Trade Representative’s office dropped the details of the massive 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal — 30 chapters and more than 2,000 pages — exactly one month after the agreement was completed on Oct. 5 in Atlanta.
The text of the TPP deal will be under the microscope of Congress and the broader public for at least 90 days before President Obama can sign the agreement, between the United States and 11 other nations: Australia, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Vietnam, Brunei, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore.

The text, which has been going through a legal scrub since the deal was completed, can be found here.

During years of talks, the Obama administration has been roundly criticized by anti-trade groups and labor unions for what they deemed an overarching policy of secrecy while the negotiators finely tuned the agreement’s details, which will guide trade among nations encompassing 40 percent of the global economy.

The release of the text will probably be followed by an “intent to sign” message to Congress from President Obama, meaning there will be 90 days before he can sign the deal, a rule that is part of the trade promotion authority (TPA), or “fast-track,” legislation signed into law this summer.

After that, the White House will send implementing language to Capitol Hill, starting the clock for the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees to begin their process of moving the TPP through their panels and to their respective floors for a final up-and-down vote.

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Under fast-track rules, Congress is prohibited from amending the TPP deal.

Also expected along the way are government reports that will evaluate the economic benefits of the agreement.

On Wednesday, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said in an op-ed in The Hill that the TPA law “does not guarantee approval for the TPP or any trade agreement.”

“In fact, quickly following the announcement that TPP negotiators had reached a deal, a number of initial reports signaled potential trouble for congressional approval,” Hatch wrote.

Hatch said he wants to ensure that the TPP meets fast-track objectives, that the trading partners can fulfill the deal’s high standards and that White House will work closely with Congress on the review process before signing off on the deal.

The Obama administration is expected to intensify its engagement with Congress following the release of the text.

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, his trade team and the president and his Cabinet are already pitching the deal to lawmakers, stakeholders and the public.

The White House will try to assure Democrats that the labor and environment chapters are the strongest ever negotiated in a trade agreement, that they are fully enforceable and won’t cause the job losses that occurred under past agreements.

There also will be a focus on the elimination of 18,000 tariffs and the benefits for U.S. agriculture.

Some lawmakers, including Hatch, have expressed concerns about eight years of data exclusivity on high-tech biologic drugs instead of 12 years that is the U.S. standard.

Some lawmakers have said they would actively oppose the deal because tobacco products are exempt from some trade protections in certain public health situations.

“Like many, I am immensely concerned that the administration may have missed a pivotal opportunity with the TPP to get the best deal possible for the American people,” Hatch said.

“I hope that I am wrong.”

Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), the new chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee who has been supportive of White House trade efforts, said Wednesday that he plans to ensure that the Republican Conference knows and understands every word in the TPP.

“If we decide this is good for America, then we’re going to be the leaders,” Brady said.

Trade is expected to rise to the top of the committee’s agenda as members pore over the massive agreement in the next several months.

Brady has said that if there is support for the TPP, he would like to get it done early next year rather than wait until a lame-duck session.

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), one of 28 Democrats who supported fast-track authority, said Wednesday that timing on a TPP in the House must be “exquisitely managed.”

If it can’t get done before April, the measure would have to be pushed to the lame-duck session or “you’re in our primary season and that’s a problem,” he said.

Also on Wednesday, Ways and Means Committee ranking member Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) said the panel’s Democratic members will hold a series of in-depth hearings starting the week of Nov. 16 “zeroing in on those issues that are of particular importance or concern to us and our fellow Democratic colleagues.”

Those issues include the environment, workers rights, investment (including tobacco), automotive and agricultural market access, rules of origin, currency manipulation and the potential effect on U.S. jobs and the economy.

“The upcoming 90-day period was established to facilitate an intensive and informed debate over the merits of TPP as negotiated, as well as the necessity for any modifications to the agreement, before the agreement is signed,” Levin said.

“Ways and Means Democrats look forward to engaging fully and meaningfully with stakeholders, the public, our colleagues and the administration during this period.”

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