The Trans-Pacific Partnership was signed by trade negotiators in New Zealand earlier this month, sparking protests in 38 cities, including Seattle.
Next stop: Congress.
Legislators from Washington state (and the rest of the country) now have to decide whether to reject or approve the massive multilateral trade deal.
The TPP would govern trade between 12 countries: the U.S., Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam. It is a major initiative of the Obama administration and the trade area represents a staggering 40% of the world’s economy.
The deal has drawn criticism from civil society groups on multiple grounds — weak environmental and labor protections, intellectual property clauses that would drive up health care costs for developing nations, and extrajudicial legal process that allow corporate interests to supersede national laws. There was also major outcry at the lack of transparency in the trade deal’s negotiation process. The full text of the deal is now public.
Last summer, Congress approved Trade Promotion Authority, a process which expedites deliberation over trade legislation. This means legislators will only have a “yes” or “no” vote on deal as-is, without any possibility for revision.
When the actual vote will come is still unclear. Technically, if the President introduces legislation right away and Congress takes it up without delay, it could be as early as mid-March. However, many are projecting later dates, possibly even after the November election, during the lame-duck session.
Gillian Locascio, lead organizer for the Washington State Fair Trade Coalition, which opposes the deal, was in Washington D.C. last week, and was able to speak with most of our state’s congressional representatives on this issue. To her, the many different projected dates for the vote indicate that there is still flexibility in the timeline.
“If the public is up in arms and incredibly angry about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and in the next few months makes that very clear to Congress, there’s going to be a lot less willingness to take a vote before elections,” Locascio said.
For opponents of the deal, the best hope may be to push it off indefinitely into the future. The Obama administration will likely wait to introduce the trade legislation to Congress until they feel confident it will pass, but each country is supposed to take care of ratifying the deal within two years.
If the vote does come soon, where do our state representatives stand?
When I talked to a spokesperson for Patty Murray, it sounded like our state’s senior senator was still on the fence:
“As a senator from the most trade-dependent state in the country, Senator Murray is very interested in making sure any trade deal works for Washington state families and workers. She continues to review the details of this new agreement and talk to people across the state about the issue — and she will make her decision when the agreement comes back to the Senate based on what she believes is best for Washington state.”
Other legislators closely echo this sentiment. Every single one has indicated they are still thinking things through and speaking with constituents.
To get a better sense of how the votes are likely to be cast, it helps to look at the votes cast for Trade Promotion Authority last summer. All four Republican house reps supported TPA, along with both senators. However, our Democratic delegation to the House was split on the vote, 3 in favor, and 3 against. Locascio said that this indicates a new trend.
“In the past we’ve seen more unified votes on this model of trade deal, but now we’re seeing a lot more doubt in the Washington delegation,” she said.
But some may vote differently on the actual trade deal itself.
Locascio points toward Democrat Denny Heck as one example.
“He voted against Trade Promotion Authority because of massive public opposition in his district, and also because he thought it was a pretty bad process,” said Locascio “But he hasn’t yet decided how he feels about the Trans Pacific Partnership and I think he is really listening to people and trying to decide where he stands on this issue.”
Democrat Adam Smith, who also voted against the Trade Promotion Authority, voiced similar sentiments that he’d be feeling out his constituents on the question.
And if the vote does come after the November election, new politicians will have taken over some of Washington’s congressional seats. For example, Jim McDermott — one of the delegation’s most consistent opponents of the TPP — is retiring from the 7th legislative district. But Locascio said that most of the candidates she had spoken to in that race would also not likely vote in favor of the TPP.
If the vote is held off, the presidential elections could also affect the ratification of the TPP. Many GOP candidates say they are opposed to the deal, as do both the Democratic front-runners.
There are still so many unknowns in terms of how this will play out, but in any case, Washington state’s voices in Congress will be of crucial consequence.
For those with concerns about the contents of the deal, now would be a good time to make some noise toward your elected representatives — they’re listening.