November 13, 2014

How the TPP Just Got Sexier

By Ashley Mergen

I’ve got news for you, folks. After last week’s election- trade just got sexier. Post-election headlines coalesced around trade policy, dubbing it one of the few areas—if not the single area— where we could see bipartisan engagement in the short term:

After this midterm election, a new Republican-led Congress can start to build trust with President Obama by striking a deal on proposed trade pacts with Asia and Europe. The US needs such bipartisanship to spur growth and shape global values. [Christian Science Monitor Editorial 11/5/14]

With the biggest trade agreement in history on the horizon, the new Congress has an extremely rare opportunity for a political hat-trick with “wins” going to themselves, the Administration, and the American economy.

Interestingly, intellectual property policy is one of the areas that could help sell the agreement here at home. IP has a strong base of support in Congress, with members on both sides of the aisle understanding that a strong intellectual property chapter bolsters U.S. competitive advantage in the global economy. If the American model—where 61% of exports are driven by IP-intensive industries—serves any indication of the power of patents, copyrights, trademarks, and trade secrets, all twelve current and future Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) partner nations also stand to gain from a high-standard chapter.

But the pact, is unlikely to come into force until enactment of a new Trade Promotion Authority (TPA, a.k.a. “fast-track”), which gives Congress the opportunity to set trade objectives and grants the Executive Branch the authority necessary to finalize trade agreements in good faith before they go up for a vote in Congress. Every president since Richard Nixon has been granted trade promotion authority (and subsequently completed a slew of trade agreements which have opened up markets to U.S. businesses and exports around the world) – until now.

Fortunately, the tea leaves seem to indicate that TPA is likely to gain support and could move forward in the 114th Congress, despite this year’s lack of action:

Mr. Obama hailed the bill in his State of the Union address, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), never a fan of fast-track and always wary of offending free-trade critics like organized labor in an election year, poured cold water on it. The administration sent Mr. Baucus to China as ambassador, and his replacement as Finance chairman, Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), attached little urgency to the bill. It fizzled amid the general legislative stagnation of a hyper-political season.

Of the bill’s three authors, only Mr. Hatch will remain in the new Congress. But the others’ absence should cause no delay; if the bipartisan bill that emerged in January was good enough for Republicans then, it should still be good enough now. This is a crucial measure that leaders of the new Congress can and should take off the shelf, pass and send to Mr. Obama for his signature. [Washington Post Editorial, 11/6/14]

While there is (rightly) some pressure to pass TPA and quickly conclude TPP and – waiting in the wings – the U.S.-EU Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the devil is indeed in the details. Getting any agreement isn’t the goal- it’s getting the right one. And setting ambitious, 21st-century standards for intellectual property protection is essential to getting TPP and TTIP right before they go to Congress for approval.

With TPP leaders declaring the “end coming into focus” on the margins of APEC meetings in Beijing, all eyes remain on the unveiling of a comprehensive, forward-leaning agreement that is so hot Congress will buckle at the knees and the hearts of American business will pitter patter all the way across the Pacific.

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