Time Is Running Out for Obama to Pass the TPP Before Trump is President

Trump puts the controversial trade deal at risk, so lawmakers are scrambling.

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Nov 10 2016, 5:03pm

Image: Flickr/Daniel Borman

The Trans-Pacific Partnership was supposed to be the trade deal of the century. Negotiated in secret, the hugely controversial agreement includes 12 countries (the US, Canada, and Japan are among them) that together make up 40 percent of the world's economy.

Donald Trump has been consistently vocal in his opposition to the deal, in contrast to the sitting US president Barack Obama, who's still trying to drum up support. While the TPP isn't quite dead, Trump may just kill it for good. But incumbent lawmakers aren't giving up, and there's now a race on to pass the deal before he moves into the White House. Perhaps in response to the news that the TPP still has a shred of hope of being passed in the US, on Thursday Japan's lower house in parliament voted to ratify the deal.

Obama has until January 20th, when his term officially ends, to convince lawmakers to approve the TPP.

Read More: Obama Signs Official Letter of Intent to Join the TPP

If passed, critics say the deal would make government spying easier by stopping efforts to mandate that data be stored domestically; that it would allow corporations to sue governments for cutting into their profits, and significantly harm the environment. Others have said that the deal's economic impacts could range from shortchanging Canada's dairy farmers to increasing the price of pharmaceuticals in New Zealand. But, proponents of the deal argue, it is very, very good for business.

Every negotiating country has already signed it, but their governments must vote to ratify it as a final step before the TPP can come into effect. Trump's win throws a significant wrench into the plan as many experts believe that the US largely led the negotiating efforts and that without it at the helm, other countries will back away. (Hillary Clinton also opposed the deal.)

"I think the TPP is dead," Michael Geist, a University of Ottawa law professor, said in an email. "Many members of Congress owe Trump for their wins and it seems very unlikely that they would cross the new president by supporting an agreement that he has steadfastly opposed. Without US support, the TPP cannot take effect."

Read More: White Hat Hackers Would Have Their Devices Destroyed Under the TPP

It won't be easy for Obama to push the deal through. US senate majority leader and vocal Trump supporter Mitch McConnell said at a news briefing in Washington on Wednesday that "[The TPP is] certainly not going to be brought up this year."

If Trump were to effectively kill the TPP, the deal's harmful effects could persist in other ways. Trump wishes to renegotiate NAFTA, for example, which Canada has expressed interest in doing if Trump wishes. A refreshed NAFTA agreement may very well contain some of the harmful provisions in the TPP, especially regarding stricter copyright rules, Geist noted in a column on Thursday.

Beyond the impact that a Trump presidency will have on trade agreements, the President-elect has appointed a well-known climate change skeptic to lead the transition in the Environmental Protection Agency, for example, and Rudy Giuliani—the former New York City mayor who championed the heavy-handed police philosophy known as "broken windows"—has expressed interest in taking on a role in federal cyber law enforcement.

As with pretty much everything else Trump said during his campaign, nobody knows whether he will actually follow through on his anti-TPP rhetoric. But it's clear that Obama, and officials in other countries, aren't waiting around to find out.

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