To the surprise, I suspect, of many observers, a handshake agreement was reached over the weekend on the Trans-Pacific Partnership commercial agreement, a mammoth Asian trade deal extending far beyond tariffs, and accompanied by a host of side agreements involving issues ranging from currency manipulation to labor standards.
It will take a few days before comprehensive analyses of the deal begin to be put together, though we can expect an aggressive immediate campaign by the administration to show that some concerns of critics (especially involving protection of corporate interests against regulation) have been accommodated. And it’s unclear at the moment exactly when the agreement will become formal enough to trigger the 90-day congressional review process set up in the recently adopted Trade Promotion Authority legislation. Unless the process is delayed to an extraordinary degree, it now seems certain that the TPP debate, which divides both major parties, will hit the campaign trail and the airwaves just as the presidential nominating contest gets very real. I’ve seen one estimate that the earliest a vote could be taken on the TPP is in early February. But it’s hard to imagine the debate would not fire up in January.
Time’s nearly up for Hillary Clinton to take a position on the deal, and this could also be a problematic factor for Joe Biden if he actually becomes interested in running for president. Opposing one of his own administration’s big legacy accomplishments probably isn’t a viable option for him. And as Greg Sargent and I discussed last week, it would be shocking if Donald Trump did not use TPP as a battering ram to maintain his white working class support against the emergence of Rubio or Bush or Kasich as an Establishment favorite. Big trade deals rank right up there with “entitlement reform” and corporate tax cuts as GOP elite preoccupations that leave the party rank-and-file cold or worse.