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Abstract: The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP)—a massive free trade agreement between the United States, Japan and ten other Pacific nations—was a vital element of US President Barack Obama’s trade policy. If completed, the TPP would be the largest regional trade agreement in history, accounting for 40 percent of the global economy, and nearly one-third of global trade.
In 2015, after five years of negotiations the TPP countries were close to agreement. But one major obstacle remained. US President Barack Obama had not yet received Trade Promotion Authority (formerly known as fast track)—a legislative measure that gave the President the authority to present a finalized trade agreement for an up or down vote in the U.S. Congress.
In the Spring of 2015, the White House had just a few short weeks to secure fast track, before the next scheduled round of TPP negotiations, and before the US Congress recessed for the summer. But if the past was any guide, Obama was about to face a bruising battle with Congress, where the TPP had already proved divisive. A large swath of Obama’s own Democratic caucus was vociferously against the trade agreement. Most Republicans on the other hand, welcomed the TPP. Just as President Bill Clinton had done in the 1990s, Obama would have to forge an uncomfortable alliance with some of his fiercest opponents in the Republican Party to ensure the survival of his ambitious trade agenda. In doing so he would have to confront fellow Democrats, who were being lobbied heavily by labor unions and consumer groups to vote against Trade Promotion Authority.
Learning Objective: By taking a close look at the Congressional battles over Trade Promotion Authority, students learn about the history of the legislative measure and gain a deeper understanding of the roles of principals and agents in negotiations. In an era of mega trade agreements and widespread fears about the negative impacts of trade liberalization on average citizens, students also question whether Trade Promotion Authority has outlived its usefulness and if so, how the United States should approach ratifying major new trade agreements.
Robert Z. Lawrence
Pages (incl. exhibits):
Joseph B. Tompkins, Jr. Fund for Case Study and Research