President Obama is bucking the left wing of his party and embarking on a massive effort to secure a free trade deal for the Pacific region.
Obama has done almost nothing on trade since Inauguration Day 2009, other than convince Congress to approve a few trade deals that were mainly negotiated by Bush. The new deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, is still not finished, though it was supposed to be done in 2012. But at least the president now seems to be committed to finishing it.
To complete the pact he’ll need fast track authority from Congress, which permits only an up or down vote on the agreement, without amendments. This is necessary because otherwise the deal would be tweaked endlessly, and negotiations with other countries would be impossible.
Opposing Obama is the Elizabeth Warren wing of the Democratic Party and Big Labor, which has all but stopped making contributions to candidates in order to focus its money on defeating fast track.
Obama seems to have shed some of his lefty persona and recognized the economic benefits of free trade, which causes America to lose some jobs in the short run but creates businesses and jobs in the long term.
What’s more, the countries that are party to the TPP – Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam – all have one thing in common: They’re not China. That is, this agreement would be an important national security tool for countering China’s growing aggressiveness in the region.
Unfortunately, Obama has so little sway in Congress that it may be hard for him to get this thing over the finish line. He’ll need lots of help from the Republicans he continues to blast by the day.
In the end, trade win usually win in Congress. But it takes a Herculean effort. We’ll see if Obama has it in him.