The US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact — which Taiwan is hoping to join — is under threat, as it faces increasing opposition in the US Congress.
About 60 Republicans in the US House of Representatives this week announced they might join their Democratic counterparts in opposing a bill that would give US President Barack Obama “fast track” authority to seal the deal with 11 other Pacific countries.
Fast track would let Congress approve or reject the trade deal without amendments.
Most Democrats are against the bill and with even limited Republican help may be able to stop it.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the force suddenly driving Republicans against the bill is a “deep distrust of Obama as an international negotiator.”
The newspaper said that Republican suspicion took center stage this month in public challenges to Obama’s nuclear negotiations with Iran.
“The president’s foreign policy, in my view, has been one continuous misstep after another, so why should we trust him to do a fast-track policy on something that’s so important with so many nations?” Republican Representative Steve Russell said.
This comes as negotiations to launch the TPP are entering their final stages.
Heavy lobbying is now under way by the Republican leadership to bring all party members back into line and support the TPP, while the White House is busy fighting for at least some Democratic votes for the trade pact.
Taiwan hopes to join the pact in a second round of talks to expand the deal later this year.
“The negotiation’s failure would have devastating consequences for US leadership, for the deepening of key partnerships in strategic regions, for the promotion of market reforms in emerging economies and for the future of the trade agenda,” said Mireya Solis, senior fellow in East Asia Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution.
The window of opportunity to cinch a TPP deal is closing fast, Solis said.
She said that passage of the fast track authority — also known as the trade promotion authority (TPA) — is “essential” as a political device to give complex trade agreements a chance at successful negotiation and ratification.
“First and foremost, we need to pass TPA in the Congress,” Solis said.
“Every week that goes by without movement on TPA reduces the prospect that trade policy could be the one area immune to the dysfunctional political climate in Washington,” she said.
“Quite simply, without TPA, there is no TPP,” Solis said.
Representative to the US Shen Lyu-shun (沈呂巡) recently said that TPP membership was “a must” for the next stage of Taiwan’s national development.
The 12 countries currently involved in negotiations account for about 40 percent of global economic output and more than one-third of world trade.
Shen says that joining the pact is “vital” for Taiwan to keep up with increasingly tough competition, particularly from South Korea.
TPP would give the US leverage in the decade ahead as it begins negotiations with second-round entrants, said Patrick Cronin, senior director of the Asia-Pacific security program at the Center for a New American Security.
“This could be a major tool for engaging China, given that our clear objective is to integrate a rising China not to contain it,” he said.
“It also gives us a potential tool for managing Taiwan, whose growing dependence on the mainland is leaving it little international space for avoiding coercion,” Cronin said.
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