On Thursday, US Congressional leaders agreed to renew President Obama’s authority to negotiate the TPP, a pan-Pacific Rim multilateral free trade pact that encompasses nations from Singapore and New Zealand to Chile and Mexico. The authority, known as a Trade Promotion Authority or “fast track,” will waive Congressional rights to oversee specifics of the trade agreement and limit Congress to approve or reject the entire agreement as a package.
Proponents of the fast track authority argue that this expedites the negotiation process for the deal, and encourages the other nations to have faith that the final draft of the deal will not be altered by a Congress captured by special business and labor interests. Opponents of the deal are concerned with the lack of oversight and the negative impact of the deal on American jobs and human rights overseas.
In particular, opponents of the deal are worried about a provision in the TPP that set up special dispute settlement system that allows corporations to settle legal disputes outside of established court systems.
Within the American political landscape, the battle lines sliced up the traditional political camps. Democrats are split between more hardline liberals like Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren on one side, pro-business Democrats on the other. President Obama seems to find more allies within the Republican Party, which has long vilified the president. Hillary Clinton, who is running for president next year, gave a balanced and vague response: “The goal is greater prosperity and security for American families, not trade for trade’s sake.”
However within the larger global economic context, the TPP has been seen as a pillar in Obama’s “pivot to Asia” vision, first articulated by Clinton, then the Secretary of State. At the same time, China is pushing for a pan-regional trade pact known as Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) that includes many of the same Asia-Pacific nations but also India. The TPP does not currently include China or India.
Taiwan has long expressed interest in joining the TPP, but analysts believe that Taiwan’s chances of being included at this stage of the negotiations are slim. Taiwan has a global economic strategic interest in joining a US-led free trade regime, to balance out economic reliance on China. China is currently Taiwan’s largest trading partner, but a hasty attempt by the Ma Administration last year to ratify the Cross-Straits Services Trade Agreement met with mass protests, culminating in the Sunflower Movement.
Interestingly, the Sunflower Movement’s major criticism of the trade deal with China runs parallel to Congressional Democrats’ major criticism of the TPP, namely, the lack of legislative input and oversight. However, liberal politicians and activists both in the US and Taiwan are experiencing what Politico calls a “broader existential crisis on free trade”; both the KMT and the DPP support Taiwan joining the TPP, but the slew of new, left-wing political parties and groups (New Power Party, Social Democratic Party, Flanc Radical), while having opposed trade with China, have not declared opposition to all trade.