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By Len Bracken
Sept. 29 — Political concerns with the trans-Pacifc trade pact were cited by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) as the main reason for not considering the deal during the lame-duck session.
McConnell said at a news conference in the Capitol trade was “politically toxic” right now, so Congress was not ready to tackle the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement “in any positive way.” He noted the opposition by the presidential candidates to the TPP and said if the pact’s implementing legislation were brought up in 2016, it would be defeated.
Separately, a group of mostly Democratic senators led by Sen. Sherrod Brown (Ohio) told the president a letter that several sections of the TPP should be renegotiated before Congress considers the deal. They are seeking substantive changes in the areas of labor rights, rules of origin and investor protection provisions.
President Barack Obama and TPP supporters in Congress are working to resolve outstanding issues of concern in the agreement in a bid to get consideration and ratification of the agreement in the lame duck, before the president leaves office.
McConnell said proponents of trade should recognize that it would not be advantageous to bring up the TPP only to have it defeated. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) made a similar remark Sept. 27 in the Capitol.
“I would hope that whoever is elected president, we can get back into having a serious discussion about the benefits to America of being in the trading business,” McConnell said.
McConnell previously noted his opposition to the exclusion of tobacco products from TPP investor protections. A provision in the exceptions chapter of the agreement would prevent tobacco companies from bringing claims against TPP governments based on violations of the agreement using the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism.
While McConnell and other Republicans want tobacco products to be covered by the ISDS process, Brown and the Democrats are critics of the mechanism, which the senators said makes U.S. public health, worker safety and environmental laws “vulnerable to corporate challenges.”
In addition to Brown, the group of senators seeking renegotiation of the TPP comprised Tammy Baldwin (Wis.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Bob Casey (Pa.), Al Franken (Minn.), Mazie Hirono (Hawaii), Edward Markey (Mass.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Brian Schatz (Hawaii), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) and former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
The lack of a ban on trade in goods made with forced or child labor and the limited enforcement of minimum wage requirements were two labor-related issues of concern highlighted by the senators. They also said the labor action plans for Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam would not ensure compliance with international labor rights.
The rules of origin for autos and auto parts establish whether items originate in a TPP country and thus qualify for the preferential tariff terms in the pact. The letter said these rules would change the U.S. auto supply chain by allowing components to be sourced from China and other non-TPP countries and still get the TPP tariff benefits.
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