US Economy
Senate Democrats block trade deal authority for Obama
By Michael Hennigan, Finfacts founder and editor
May 13, 2015 - 8:28 AM

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President Barack Obama talks backstage with moderator E. J. Dionne, Jr., left, Washington Post columnist and professor in Georgetown’s McCourt School of Public Policy, before the Catholic-Evangelical Leadership Summit on Overcoming Poverty, at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, May 12, 2015. Other panelists backstage are, from left, Robert Putnam, professor of public policy at the Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government and Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute.

Senate Democrats on Tuesday defeated a bill to give President Barack Obama authority to fast-track negotiations on key trade deals.

Only one Democrat, Senator Tom Carper of Delaware, voted with 51 Republicans to begin debate on the measure — short of the 60 votes needed. The other 42 Democrats and two independents voted against.

The Wall Street Journal says that  the vote is not necessarily the final word.

According to the newspaper, senators Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader, and Chuck Schumer of New York, the No. 3 Democrat, have proposed a compromise to Republican leaders: First, hold a separate vote on legislation aimed at discouraging so-called currency manipulation by American trading partners, which could be vetoed by the president. Then, wrap the fast-track authority he is seeking with a more encompassing bill, including assistance for displaced workers, extension of an African trade accord and other trade enforcement measures.

The Journal says that offer could be the path forward, given that at least eight Democrats who normally embrace trade deals voted no on Tuesday. The currency provisions demanded by Democrats are strongly opposed by Japan and Malaysia, two of the 12 nations trying to complete the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and could be significant enough to stop the larger accord.

A US Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) report says TPP is a proposed regional FTA (free trade agreement) that the United States is negotiating with 11 other countries: Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. Based on the most recent data, TPP partners account for 37% of world GDP, 11% of the world’s population, and 23% of world exports of goods and services. In 2013, TPP countries received $698bn in US merchandise exports and $199bn in US services exports, making the region as a whole the top export destination for the United States.

The CEA adds in respect of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) that the United States and the European Union already maintain the world’s largest bilateral trade relationship. In 2013, together both regions account for nearly one-half of world GDP and about 42% of global exports of goods and services. Bilateral trade between the two regions amounts to about $1tn annually. Based on the most recent data, US companies have approximately $2.4tn invested in the European Union, while European companies have $1.7tn invested in the United States.

Martin Wolf of the FT says (via Irish Times) the economic gains are unlikely to be large. Trade has been substantially liberalised already and any gains decline as barriers fall. A study of the TPP by the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington suggests the rise in US real incomes would be below 0.4% of national income. A study of the TTIP published by the Centre for Economic Policy Research in  London comes to slightly higher figures for the EU and US. Completion of the TPP and TTIP might raise US real incomes by 1% of GDP. "This is not nothing, but it is not large."

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