U.S. trade rep insists TPP is not dead yet

In this file photo, a Kimono-clad protester holds an anti-TPP fan during a rally against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in Tokyo, Saturday, May 25, 2013.
In this file photo, a Kimono-clad protester holds an anti-TPP fan during a rally against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in Tokyo, Saturday, May 25, 2013. AP

The country’s top trade official is confident the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership could pass this year, despite increasingly critical rhetoric about the deal from both parties’ presumptive presidential nominees.

U.S. Trade Ambassador Michael Froman said Thursday that though Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump have been outspoken in their opposition to the expansive trade agreement, he and his colleagues recently enjoyed positive receptions from U.S. lawmakers; a sign, he said, that the deal may soon move forward.

“They’ve always been politically difficult,” Froman said of trade agreements during a Christian Science Monitor breakfast Thursday.

“We think this is the window of opportunity to get it done.”

The Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, which the Obama administration completed in October, forges economic ties with 11 Pacific Rim countries, including Japan, Australia and Vietnam.

Since then, Republican support for the deal – critical for it to reach, and pass, a vote in Congress – has waned significantly.

In drafting a party platform Monday, the GOP left the deal out altogether, an act many see as signaling a backing-away. Democrats, meanwhile, did not oppose the deal in their platform either, saying Clinton’s voiced opposition to it is enough.

However, it’s critical that the agreement makes progress before Obama leaves office, Froman said.

“If it’s not done this year, it’s quite unclear when it would get done, given the broader political developments,” Froman said.

Froman maintained that lawmakers understand the serious economic and political costs of letting the agreement die.

“As we display the TPP to members of Congress, they see what’s in it for their constituents and stakeholders they care about,” Froman said.

Failing to implement the TPP would cost the country about $94 billion in the first year, a price tag that breaks down to a $700 tax on each American family, Froman said.

It’s also doubtful Congress would want to accept responsibility for creating “an opening to China,” Froman said. Some supporters of the trade deal say that if the TPP does not pass, Beijing will take the United States’ place; a concern gathering momentum following conflict over the South China Sea.

“Failure to move forward not only imposes a significant economic costs, but is a self-inflicted wound when it comes to American leadership in this region,” Froman said.

Froman spent three days on Capitol Hill this week talking with lawmakers. With Congress about to enter a recess, Froman and his team will shift to focus their efforts across the country, the trade ambassador said.

He and White House officials will be traveling to speak on the TPP and its benefits in the hopes of garnering support for the expansive agreement. About 270 such events have already taken place in the past couple months, Froman said. He was about to leave Thursday for Iowa, where the next one will occur.

Eleanor Mueller: 202-383-6033, @eleanor_mueller