President Obama’s controversial Pacific Rim free trade deal (“the deal”), a trade agreement to enhance trade and investment among 11 Asian Pacific countries to boost economic growth in the United States, has sparked widespread opposition throughout the Democratic base.  This resistance primarily stems from the concern that the deal will result in job losses and will harm the economy by favoring the interests of big business at the expense of American workers.  As a result, members of the Democratic Party have fiercely voiced their opposition, only 17 members of the House Democrats have said they will support the legislation.  On this front, President Obama contends that American workers will still benefit from the deal, which is committed to reducing tariffs on the trading of goods and services to create new opportunities for workers and businesses. The president further argued that new trade partnerships will help create even more jobs.    

However, the deal fosters a heavy focus on “high-tech” industries and away from traditional manufacturing.  President Obama justified this shift by acknowledging that manufacturing jobs have been moved elsewhere, and therefore, the focus must be “to compete for the high end, where we’re adding value…where it’s IT, it’s talent, it’s innovation. That’s the kind of stuff that we can sell all around the world.” Labor Department statistics between 2002 and 2012 support Obama’s contention, showing that the quantity of goods and services produced from Hollywood and high tech industries combined, including pharmaceutical production, engineering services, and computer aerospace manufacturing, have increased by 30 percent, whereas traditional manufacturing has decreased. 

The deal has also been scrutinized for its secrecy, in that the specific provisions of the deal have been kept secret both from the public and from Congress.  Although, the Office of the United States Trade Representative (“UTSR”) has outlined five key features of the deal, the language is ambiguous at best.  The UTSR noted comprehensive market access as one of the key features.  The remaining four features include a fully regional agreement to foster the development of production among the countries involved; cross-cutting trade issues, such as the creation of more efficient trade and more competitive economies among the countries; new trade challenges, promoting trade and investment in innovative products and services; and finally, a living agreement that can be amended as needed.

Despite the deal’s entrenched opposition, the Senate granted Obama’s push for fast track authority of the deal, which, if passed by the House, would call for implementation without any changes or super-majority requirement from the Senate.  The fate of what President Obama considers “the most progressive trade agreement in history” lies with the members of the House of Representatives, who are expected to vote on the deal in mid-June.

Kaitlyn Zacharias