When it comes to discussing ratification of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman has become Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote Man of la Mancha.
Froman has tirelessly advocated for the TPP to anyone who will lend a listening ear: foreign governments, Congress, farm industry groups and probably even his own relatives.
Froman fights on in the hope that the TPP will be ratified. But in the stark light of presidential election-year politics, Froman’s quest has all but certainly become an impossible dream.
And some the most influential members of Congress now don’t give the deal much of a chance.
Senate Finance Committee Chair Orrin Hatch thinks no deal is possible before the November presidential elections, and he put the chances during a lame-duck session at no better than 50-50. Hatch has shown growing frustration over the Obama administration’s inability to address his concerns over long-term protections for biologics’ test data.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is even more blunt. Way back last December, McConnell suggested he wouldn’t call the TPP for a Senate vote before the fall elections.
Since then, McConnell has said prospects for a vote on the TPP in the lame-duck session are “bleak,” pointing to the TPP trade positions of presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and likely Democrat presidential standard bearer Hillary Clinton. McConnell stated:
“The biggest problem right now is the political environment to pass a trade bill is worse than any time I’ve been in the Senate because we’re right in the middle of this presidential election year, [and] the candidates are all against what the president has negotiated.”
TPP prospects are equally dire over in the House of Representatives, where Speaker of the House Paul Ryan says the votes are not there for passage.
TPP proponents are at the moment left hoping that either Trump or Clinton take up the deal, preferably early in 2017. But Trump and his “Let’s Make America Great Again” campaign has no use for the TPP. Trump has described the deal saying:
“The TPP is horrible deal. It is a deal that is going to lead to nothing but trouble. It’s a deal that was designed for China to come in, as they always do, through the back door and totally take advantage of everyone.”
Perhaps, in attempt to get to the political left of Democrat presidential rival Bernie Sanders, but perhaps not, Clinton said:
“We cannot let rules of origin allow China — or anyone else, but principally China — to go around trade agreements. It’s one of the reasons why I oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership because when I saw what was in it, it was clear to me there were too many loopholes, too many opportunities for folks to be taken advantage of.”
All this political angst has to be disheartening to many U.S. farmers who read American Farm Bureau Federation analysis of how the TPP would boost net farm income by $4.4 billion, primarily in beef and export markets.
Sometimes, you have to read between the lines to get to the heart of what politicians mean by what they say. I don’t think that is the case here.
Froman may be willing to march into Hell for a heavenly cause, but in the end I’m afraid his TPP quest is an unreachable star.
About Dave Dickey
Dickey spent nearly 30 years at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s NPR member station WILL-AM 580 where he won a dozen Associated Press awards for his reporting. For the past 13 years, he directed Illinois Public Media’s agriculture programming. His weekly column for Big Ag Watch covers agriculture and related issues including politics, government, environment and labor. Email him at email@example.com.
This column reflects the writer’s own opinions and not those of Big Ag Watch.