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Sparks fly as fight begins in the US over TPP trade deal

Friday, November 6, 2015 - 08:50
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Opponents of a huge Pacific free-trade deal began mobilizing on Thursday (Nov 5) as the administration of President Barack Obama released the agreement text to begin the process of seeking ratification from Congress.

[WASHINGTON] Opponents of a huge Pacific free-trade deal began mobilizing on Thursday (Nov 5) as the administration of President Barack Obama released the agreement text to begin the process of seeking ratification from Congress.

Mr Obama declared the deal struck with Japan, Australia, and nine other Pacific economies as a pact written to US standards and interests, warning that the US would lose out if it is not endorsed by the legislature.

"It's the highest standard trade agreement in history," Mr Obama said in a statement."The TPP means that America will write the rules of the road in the 21st century... And if we don't pass this agreement - if America doesn't write those rules - then countries like China will. And that would only threaten American jobs and workers and undermine American leadership around the world." But with the public now able to examine the 5,000 pages of details of the deal, kept secret throughout negotiations, signs were emerging that the White House could have a tough fight on its hands.

Opponents have already scheduled protests in Washington for November 16, saying that the agreement is "worse than we thought".

Senator Bernie Sanders, a Democrat running to succeed Mr Obama in next year's election, used that same phrase to voice his opposition."This trade deal would make it easier for corporations to shut down more factories in the US and ship more jobs to Vietnam and Malaysia where workers are paid pennies an hour," he said."I will do everything I can to defeat the TPP."

Activists bashed it for having few teeth to enforce labor rights and environmental protections, while giving drug companies patent protections that would deny poor people access to vital drugs.

"The TPP really has a corporate agenda... and does not help working people," said Celeste Drake of the AFL-CIO labor federation."The words 'climate change' don't even appear in the text, a dead giveaway that this isn't a 21st-century trade deal," said Michael Brine, executive director of the Sierra Club.

The challenge Mr Obama faces has already played out once, when he struggled hard to get the authority from Congress to negotiate a final deal. The president had to lean far more on Republicans than his own Democratic party to get support, and then it barely passed.

Democrats fear the deal with have similar results to the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, which they say resulted in tens of thousands of US jobs being lost to Mexico and Canada.

Many Republicans have meanwhile warned the White House that the deal should not give away too much to the other 11 countries in it.

The challenge is that the TPP pact cannot be amended now that it is complete, and must be accepted or rejected as a whole by Congress.

Late Thursday, Mr Obama gave Congress official notification that he intends to sign the pact in 90 days.

Then there is a lengthy period in which a full assessment of its economic impact is done, and afterward Congress will have a chance to vote. Some estimates say that could mean the first ratification vote would not happen until later next year.

Conservatives were cautiously supportive."Enactment of TPP is going to require the administration to fully explain the benefits of this agreement and what it will mean for American families," said the powerful new speaker of the House of Representatives, Paul Ryan.

"But I remain hopeful that our negotiators reached an agreement that the House can support because a successful TPP would mean more good jobs for American workers and greater US influence in the world."

The Business Roundtable, a group of top chief executives, said the deal has "incredible potential for even more economic growth and job creation in the United States, while also improving environmental and labor standards in the TPP countries." Appended to the bill to earn support in Congress and from businesses and labor groups was an agreement by the 12 to not manipulate their currencies for trade advantage. That was an issue a number of legislators demanded to earn their support.

As for the public, a Monmouth University poll said Americans generally have "no opinion" and are "simply not tuned in" to the TPP."The potential impact on Main Street remain difficult for most Americans to picture," said polling director Patrick Murray.

AFP