【Editorial】 Maximum caution necessary as U.S. passes trade promotion authority bill (June 20, 2015)


The U.S. Senate is trying somehow or other to pass the second version of the trade promotion authority (TPA) bill which is said to be indispensable for President Barack Obama to conclude the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade talks. In a desperate effort to advance the bill and accelerate the TPP negotiations, Republican congressional leaders resorted to an extreme measure of separating a workers’ assistance bill originally packaged with the TPA bill. We have to keep watching the U.S. move with the greatest caution, along with the Japanese government’s eagerness to follow the U.S.

U.S. Congress is now in chaos. The first version of the fast-track TPA bill was packaged with the Trade Adjustment Authority bill which provides retraining and financial aid to workers who lose their jobs because of large trade agreements such as the TPP. The package, intended to gain support of Democrats backed by labor unions, has to pass both chambers of Congress before it heads to Obama’s desk for his signature to become law.

The first version of the two bills were passed in the Senate, but in a recent legislative tactical move, anti-free-trade Democrats of the House of Representatives voted against the trade adjustment portion that they would otherwise support, in hopes of blocking the TPA bill. Then on Thursday, June 18, House Republican leaders took a step of separating the TAA bill from the package and conducting a do-over vote on the TPA bill to pass it as a stand-alone.

The stand-alone TPA bill was sent to the Senate, and if it clears a procedural vote, the stage will be set for a final vote as early as next week. The Senate has 100 members – 54 Republicans, 44 Democrats and two independents – and since 60 votes are required to end debate on legislation, their approval to advance the bill would virtually assure its final passage. However, prospects remain uncertain as anti-trade Democrats might vote against the bill which was broken away from the workers assistance measure. As Obama’s power among his fellow Democrats is weakening, he has no other means but to depend on pro-free trade Republicans to revive the trade legislation. At the same time, he continues to persuade Democrats to support the TAA bill, saying the failure to pass the bill would affect about 100,000 workers every year.

We can see two separate trends in the ongoing moves in Congress. One, the most obvious, is the strong determination of the White House and some pro-trade members of Congress to move the TPP talks forward for the sake of global corporations. This is most likely driven more by the irresistible force of globalism rather than Obama’s political legacy building efforts. The Japanese government also supports this globalization trend.

The other force is an effort by workers, citizens and lawmakers to block and push back against the TPP deal by identifying its adverse effects on people’s lives and jobs. Healthy democracy exists among them who have called for disclosure of information and raised the alarm over major corporations monopolizing wealth. Their actions are prompted by the North American Free Trade Agreement which has brought about negative effects such as huge increase in unemployment and flow of illegal immigrants, as well as many U.S. manufacturers moving to other countries with lower costs.

Obama is hoping to pass the two bills as a package, but he might end up giving priority to the passage of the TPA bill. How the Senate vote turns out next week will become the key to decide the future direction of the TPP negotiations. We must keep a close eye on future developments.

(June 20, 2015)

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