The TPP: Destined to Fail or Obama’s Last Stand?

By Alex Yeager


After years of secret negotiations, the groundbreaking Trans-Pacific Partnership was finally signed on November 3rd by 11 participating nations. Simply getting the deal signed was no easy task - but the hardest test is likely yet to come. Due to the US’s dual treaty system, the deal requires domestic ratification to fully put into force. While the elaborate, 11-nation negotiation process would seem to be the most difficult component of the deal, the fireworks are likely just about to start.

In response to the signing, powerful Congressional members such as Sen. Orrin Hatch and Mitch McConnell have expressed criticism towards the deal in its current form. Critics feel it fails to hold other nations accountable for unfair trade tactics, and allows large corporations to subject foreign nations to suits without proper safeguards. It is thought by many that if pushed through the House today, it would be likely to fail in front of the Republican controlled House. Yet congressional approval might not even be the TPP’s biggest hurdle.

The deal, lauded by some as the largest of its kind, and criticized by others, has become a lightning rod for potential presidential candidates. Potential Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has been a predictably vocal critic of the deal. Despite being a vocal proponent of free trade, Trump has taken the stance that the US has negotiated a poor deal with the Asian Pacific-Rim nations. He has also proposed a wide array of anti-free trade provisions such as imposing a 45 percent tariff on Chinese goods. Other Republican frontrunners, such as Ted Cruz, have also expressed disapproval of the deal. Perhaps even more concerning for President Obama, however, is that even presidential candidates from his own party have expressed public stances against the pact.

The two Democratic frontrunners, Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders have also expressed disapproval for the pact. Some have expressed cynicism as to the legitimacy of Hillary’s public stance. The Sanders campaign has seized on this perception, forcing Clinton to go on the defensive. If any beacon of hope remains for a post-Obama ratification, however, it is likely in a Hillary about-face. Yet combined with a Republican controlled House, and the potential pushback that another Democratic Presidential win could cause, it seems unlikely that either Democratic candidate would pick the TPP as their preliminary cross-party battle.

So it appears likely that if the TPP does receive domestic US ratification, it will have to do so before President Obama leaves office.  Yet with other large fights looming, such as the confirmation of a ninth Supreme Court Justice following the death of Antonin Scalia, the deal may even take a back seat in the finals months of President Obama’s office. A potential looming economic slowdown and perpetual fights over universal healthcare were already a lot to put on President Obama’s plate.  Combined with potential hurdles in other signing countries, and the TPP faces an uncertain future to say the least.