The White House and Congressional leaders continued meeting this month with the hope of resolving substantive concerns over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in time for a vote in the lame-duck session of Congress after the November elections.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) both indicated that Administration officials, including U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, have held meetings with Members of Congress to resolve substantive concerns over the agreement. Rep. Brady said the key outstanding issues for Republican leaders include the duration of intellectual property protections for biologic medicines, as well as implementation plans for the agreement.
Administration officials and congressional leaders have identified a pathway for resolving one of the major concerns—the exclusion of the financial services sector from TPP protections against data localization—via negotiations on the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA), a separate, 23-country agreement focused exclusively on service industries. However, Rep. Brady noted that Congress will want assurances that four TPP countries not involved in TiSA – Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, and Vietnam – are equally covered by commitments on data localization taken in their respective TPP implementation plans.
Despite continued work on the substance of the agreement, Members of Congress are overall pessimistic on TPP’s chances for passage in the lame-duck session given the current political climate on trade. In an oft-used line of attack, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump criticized his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton during the first Presidential debate on September 21 for her support of TPP as Secretary of State, forcing her to reiterate her opposition to the current version of the agreement.
The political backlash against trade in the presidential race has echoed in the congressional races leaving many lawmakers politically vulnerable for voicing support for TPP. In the House, some of the 190 Republicans who voted in favor of Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) legislation last year have already declared opposition to TPP, which will likely force the Administration to pick up additional “yes” votes from Democrats who voted against TPA in order to pass TPP (only 28 House Democrats voted in favor of TPA, which narrowly passed the House 218-208). While the vote count could be more favorable in the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) has said that TPP is “politically toxic” and that the Senate will not take up the current agreement this year.
Congressional approval of TPP in 2016 will thus require many factors to align in its favor, among them: resolution of the remaining substantive issues, the electoral outcomes for the President and new Congress, and the overall mood on Capitol Hill given other legislative priorities in the busy lame-duck session.