President Obama faced deep skepticism from fellow Democrats over the hard-fought Pacific Rim trade deal after it was released early Thursday morning, with critics calling it a “job-killing” agreement as the administration argued it’s an economic win.
The Trans Pacific Partnership, after spending months under wraps, was posted online Thursday morning. The debate over the deal has cut across party lines, with Obama enjoying some support from Republicans yet facing fierce resistance from congressional Democrats.
Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Md., said Thursday the deal may be “worse than we thought,” predicting the agreement would lead to American job losses and calling on lawmakers to stop the deal.
The text of the agreement between the U.S. and 11 other countries including Japan and Mexico runs to 30 chapters and hundreds of pages. It is dense in its detail, laying out plans for the handling of trade in everything from zinc dust to railway sleepers and live eels.
The documents show the pact reached Oct. 5 in Atlanta after several years of talks is full of lofty goals. Negotiators agreed to promote environmental sustainability, respect the rights and needs of indigenous peoples, and temper protections for drug patents with safeguards for public health and access to medicines.
It also emphasizes the intention of the trading bloc to abide by earlier commitments made under the World Trade Organization and other international treaties.
But critics see abundant potential for the agreement to expose more American workers to low-wage competition, giving multinational corporations excessive power.
Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., echoed Edwards in saying “it appears that the agreement is even worse than expected, and the auto industry is among the biggest losers.”
She specifically complained, in a statement, about the “lack of any meaningful protections against currency manipulation,” predicting that would continue to threaten U.S. jobs.
New House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., meanwhile, said he was reserving judgment. “But I remain hopeful that our negotiators reached an agreement that the House can support because a successful TPP would mean more good jobs for American workers and greater U.S. influence in the world,” he said.
The early reaction sets the stage for an intense debate likely to drag well into next year.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest on Thursday urged Congress to act, saying “there’s no reason it should take a year to get that done.”
Under a trade law passed earlier this year, President Obama must give the public time to review the text before he signs the agreement and turns it over to Congress for approval.
Obama on Thursday formally notified Congress of his intent to sign the deal. When it comes to them, lawmakers can’t add amendments. They must simply vote yes or no. Congress is likely to take up the issue next year in the heat of the presidential election campaign.
Among the political complications for Obama is that Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton already has said she’s against it.
If all 12 countries have not ratified the agreement within two years, provisions allow for it to take effect if six countries comprising 85 percent of the GDP of the bloc have signed. That means U.S. ratification as the world’s biggest economy is essential.
Apart from the U.S., Japan and Mexico, countries in the trade pact are New Zealand, Australia, Chile, Peru, Canada, Brunei, Singapore, Vietnam and Malaysia.
The White House says the deal eliminates more than 18,000 taxes that countries impose on U.S. exports. The agreement also calls for labor protections such as ensuring that workers in member countries have the right to form unions.
Those opposed to the deal contend it will force American workers to compete even more directly than they do now with workers in low-wage countries such as Vietnam.
They also complain that the agreement goes beyond traditional trade issues such as tariffs and import quotas and includes giveaways to powerful business lobbies.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.