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Monday, September 12, 2016

Trade update — TTIP dying; TTP possible, perhaps likely, in Lame Duck Session

by Gaius Publius

While the big U.S–European Union trade deal (TTIP) is starting to die, the U.S.–Asian trade deal (TTP) still looks likely to get a vote in the lame duck Congress at the end of this year. TTIP first, then TPP.

France calls for end of TTIP talks

France has joined a growing list of EU nations increasingly dissatisfied by the heavy balance of TTIP benefits to the U.S. One French trade minister said the treaty contains "nothing but crumbs" for France and cites growing popular dissatisfaction with the proposed deal.

So France wants out. John Queally, writing at Common Dreams:
'Another Day, Another Death Knell' for TTIP as France Calls for End of Talks

Describing ongoing negotiations as producing "nothing or just crumbs," French Junior Trade Minister Matthias Fekl says there is "no more political support in France" for the corporate-friendly deal

Though the office of the U.S Trade Representative on Monday said efforts to seal a trade deal between the U.S. and the European Union were still "making steady progress," the attempt to put an optimistic spin on the struggling negotiations was undermined once again on Tuesday as France's financial minister called for the outright suspension of talks.

Describing the ongoing negotiations with the U.S. over the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) as producing "nothing or just crumbs," French Junior Trade Minister Matthias Fekl said on Tuesday there is "no more political support in France" for the deal at this point.

"France calls for an end to these negotiations," Fekl said during an interview on RMC radio in France. He indicated there is no longer any hope that the countries involved could secure an agreement by year's end. "France would rather see things as they are and not harbor the illusion that an agreement will be struck before the end of the U.S. president's term in office."

While backers of the corporate-friendly deal, including U.S. President Barack Obama, have vowed to push ahead, its critics see the wave of public declarations by top ministers as proof their campaigning against the deal is paying off.
It seems the Europeans too are wary of the loss of state sovereignty under ISDS provisions of the treaty, as well as the way it tilts the playing field on other corporate matters.

Just a few days earlier, Germany expressed similar sentiments, saying that the treaty had "de facto failed."
"Negotiations with the U.S. have de facto failed, because of course as Europeans we couldn't allow ourselves to submit to American demands," Sigmar Gabriel told the German news station ZDF in an interview that will air at 7pm German time Sunday, according to Der Spiegel.

"Everything has stalled," Gabriel said.
What does "de facto failed" mean in practice? According to The Independent, after 14 rounds of negotiation, three of those rounds in the previous six months, none of the 27 chapters being deliberated had been agreed to.

Your bottom line — If TTIP is to pass, the next U.S. president will have to take over the negotiations. Barring a drastic change, tt looks like the current one, President Obama, has failed.

TTP still viable in this year's Lame Duck Session

The same is not true for TPP, the Pacific agreement, which is much further along. You're probably hearing about how Paul Ryan in the House and Mitch McConnell in the Senate are saying TPP will not get a lame duck vote. According to Public Citizen's trade expert, Lori Wallach, this is just a negotiating posture by the Republicans and their corporate backers to get Obama to sweeten the pro-corporate deal even further.

In other words, don't count TPP dead until the lame duck fails to bring it up or to pass it. (And even then don't count it dead, as I see it.)

The entire U.S. corporate universe, which finances both parties, wants this deal to pass, as do most of the leaders of those parties. The fight's not over.

Other things to keep in mind when contemplating the fate of TPP:
  • Fast Track is a one-use tool per trade agreement. If Obama tries to force a vote this year, and that vote fails, Fast Track rules no long apply to TPP. So the stakes are high.
  • Corporate donors to both parties, including the Republican Party, are desperate for TPP to pass. In Wallach's estimation (and mine), Ryan and McConnell are stalling to get Obama to make the deal even more corporate-friendly — by extending patent and IP protections, for example, which drug companies consider to be inadequate in the current agreement (meaning, those new provisions are very lucrative, but still not lucrative enough).
  • Obama can't force a vote; he can only "start the Fast Track clock." The clock allows a window of 90 session-days within which a vote must be taken. But since there aren't 90 session-days left in this Congress, the Republicans, if they wish, really can block the treaty by not bringing it up for a vote and letting time run out in this Congress. (Think of it like the shot clock and the game clock in basketball. The shot clock may show 20 seconds before they team with the ball has to shoot, but if there are only 10 seconds left in the game, the shot clock is moot.)
  • Obama might call the Republicans' bluff and try to force a vote anyway by starting the clock without making changes. Remember, Fast Track can only be used once per treaty. If he does this, it then becomes a question of how much of the big-money pie do über-wealthy Republican donors want to settle for — all but the last small piece, or do they want that piece as well?
  • Finally, the votes may not be there this time, as Wallach explains. Still, you never know. Congressional Democrats always finds enough people on their team willing to do the dirty work so the rest of the team can pretend to be opposed (looking at you, Schumer and Pelosi). This will take constant vigilance.
Now over to Lori Wallach, who really is the tireless, go-to expert on all of these really bad trade deals and the reasons to oppose them. Writing in the Huffington Post, she says:
TPP Is Not Dead, Unfortunately

The reports of the Trans-Pacific Partnership's death have been greatly exaggerated, unfortunately.

It would great news if the pact, which would mean more power for corporations over our lives and government, and fewer good jobs for Americans, were ready to be boxed and buried.

But more urgently, if last week's news stories convince the growing transpartisan movement fighting the TPP to stand down, the prospects that the pact's powerful proponents can succeed in their plan to pass it after the election [i.e., in the lame duck session] will increase.

Last week Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said at the Kentucky Farm Bureau: "The current agreement...which has some serious flaws, will not be acted upon this year." This generated a wave of press coverage declaring that there would be no lame duck vote on the TPP....

Note that McConnell said the "current agreement" would not get a vote. A few weeks ago House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said: "I see no point in bringing up an agreement only to defeat it...it is not ready, the president has to renegotiate some critical components of it." Immediately after McConnell's speech, a Ryan spokesman said: "As we have said for months, timing will be determined by progress on the substance - and the administration has a lot of work to do there."
Wallach's reason for Ryan and McConnell's opposition is mine as well — "progress on the substance," or sweetness, of the deal itself (my emphasis):
Those statements need to be understood for what they are: negotiating for changes to obtain even more corporate goodies - longer monopoly protections for pharmaceutical firms' high medicine prices, elimination of an exception protecting some tobacco regulations from TPP attack, and more. So far the corporate "we-want-more-or-else" tactic has pushed the White House into caving on Wall Street firms' demands to "fix" TPP rules allowing governments to limit movement of financial data across borders. Since the administration has made no parallel moves to address criticisms coming from its own party, a very bad deal is getting even worse.
About the game of "chicken" Obama is playing with the money people pulling the GOP leaders' strings:
It's also possible congressional Republicans will jump into gear to pass the deal in the lame duck session even if they do not achieve that last one percent of corporate goodies for the one percent. Thanks to Fast Track, President Obama gets to decide if the TPP vote clock is started - not the Republican leadership. It is risky, but Obama could call the GOP leaders' negotiating bluff.

Fast Track is a one use tool. Failure to pass the TPP once a president starts the clock means that Fast Track for the TPP is "used up." Knowing that corporations that fund the Republicans want the TPP, Obama could gamble that the GOP leaders would fold on their demands and start pressuring their members to vote "yes" if he submits the implementing legislation....

Because there would not be the required 90 congressional session days to force floor votes under Fast Track, the Republican congressional leaders would have to bring the TPP to a vote quickly or run out of time. (That is why Sen. Bernie Sander's statement last week, praising McConnell for announcing he would "block" the TPP was so very sly, because of course McConnell said no such thing.)
Make no mistake, though. The entire U.S. corporate universe, which finances both parties, wants this deal to pass, as do most of the leaders of those parties, even while, as Wallach says elsewhere in the article, congressional votes for it are starting to disappear — or starting to appear to disappear ahead of the election.

Your bottom line — TPP is very likely not dead in the lame duck session. I consider it highly likely to come up for a vote.

(A version of this piece appeared at Down With Tyranny. GP article archive here.)