Negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, spearheaded by the Obama administration in the United States, have been swayed by domestic U.S. politics. This is because the administration and Congress have met unexpected difficulties in bridging partisan differences over a bill that would give the president trade negotiation authority. The negotiations will not reach a final agreement as long as the U.S. administration does not have negotiating authority.
Talks between the 12 countries participating in negotiations have entered the final stage. One area that remains a point of great contention is intellectual property rights. A compromise is already in sight. Non-U.S. negotiating countries also appear to be fine-tuning the speed of negotiations while watching the movements of Congress out of the corner of their eyes.
By U.S. Constitutional law, the authority to conduct trade negotiations with foreign countries is held by Congress. Nevertheless, since Congress cannot negotiate directly with foreign countries, it has given the president authority under a legislative measure, and the U.S. trade representative is in charge of negotiations with foreign governments under the direction of the president.
As a result of last November’s midterm elections, the Republican opposition party seized the majority in Congress. The Republican Party traditionally has had a strong preference for free trade, but there are quite a few members of Congress in the tea party — a conservative grassroots movement — who are skeptical of free trade.
On the other hand, Democrats in the president’s own circle have strongly opposed free trade from the start, since their base of support is labor unions, which are protectionist at their very core.
Free and lively exchange of differing opinions is a principle of democracy. Nevertheless, the difficulty of predicting the outcome of deliberations over a trade negotiating authority bill is not necessary because there has been a growing policy debate over foreign trade and investment.
Deliberations of this measure have been taken hostage, as members of Congress have made demands unrelated to trade, and there is also the influence of those who semi-emotionally object to granting this authority to the Obama administration.
It’s too bad that America’s political arena, which has driven the world’s free trade, spends all its time on minor political dealings, rather than broad-perspective policy statements on how to build tomorrow’s trade system. But being prone to local pork-barrel politics is the usual for politicians. It is a situation that calls into question the president’s governing abilities, including individual negotiations with lawmakers.
Countries participating in TPP negotiations, including Japan, are exerting great effort domestically so as to achieve the high level of liberalization the United States demands. Moreover, they are waiting for the U.S. Congress to enact the trade negotiation authority bill. Now is the time I would like the Obama administration to show determination and backbone in persuading Congress.