【News】 Senior U.S. Congressmen express reservations over TPP agreement (Oct. 2, 2015)


Takanori Okabe – Atlanta

As the ministers of the member nations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade talks meet in Atlanta with hopes of reaching an agreement, two senior U.S. Congressmen said that even if a TPP deal is concluded, they would not support it if it falls short of Congress’ expectations.

They urged negotiators to realize an agreement which benefits the U.S. workers and businesses, apparently pressuring them not to make concessions regarding such thorny issues as the period of patent protection for next-generation biotech drugs and access to dairy markets. Increasing pressure by Congress could make the U.S. government act more harshly in the ministerial meetings.

“No one – at least no one from our side of the negotiations – should be in a hurry to close talks if it means getting a less-than-optimal result for our country,” said Orrin Hatch, chair of the Senate Finance Committee responsible for trade, in his speech on Senate floor on Tuesday, Sept. 29. “My hope is that, as (negotiators) move through the latest round of talks in Atlanta this week, they consider what it will take to get a deal through Congress,” Hatch said. “And, as I have stated many times before, if the agreement falls short, I will not support it.”

Hatch, backed by pharmaceutical manufacturers, has maintained that strong patent and regulatory data protections for biologic drugs are vital to securing congressional support for the trade deal.

Meanwhile, Senator Ron Wyden, ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, issued a statement on Wednesday, Sept. 30, saying Americans “deserve nothing less than a good deal for our workers and our businesses” including “significant new access to Canada’s dairy market.”

“If an agreement can’t be reached in Atlanta that reflects these priorities … I expect the negotiations will continue until such an agreement can be obtained,” Wyden stressed.

In June, U.S. Congress passed the Trade Promotion Authority bill, which grants the president enhanced power to negotiate trade agreements by guaranteeing expedited legislative procedures for limited periods, provided the president observes certain statutory obligations. However, if Congress regards an agreement as having shortcomings, it can vote against the bill to approve the agreement or take away the authority it has given to the government. Hatch and Wyden, who jointly proposed the bipartisan TPA legislation, apparently hinted on such possibilities so as to add pressure to the government not to seek compromises.

Other Congressmen are also taking actions to pressure the government, such as by sending a letter to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, speaking on behalf of industrial organizations which support them. A Japanese source well-versed in the TPP negotiations warned that U.S. negotiators might use such calls from Congress as an excuse to take a harder stance and demand more concessions from other member nations.

(Oct. 2, 2015)

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