CAPITOL HILL —
The Obama administration has released the full text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, launching what is expected to be a fierce battle in the U.S. Congress over the controversial 12-country Pacific Rim trade accord.
Under the terms of so-called "fast-track" legislation passed by Congress earlier this year, Congress now has 90 days to study, deliberate and debate the details of the trade deal, known as the TPP, before holding votes on whether to ratify it in the House and Senate.
No amendments are allowed, and only a simple majority is required to ratify the deal in each chamber.
Ryan Reserves Judgment
New House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican, said trade is essential for the United States, and the U.S. should be at the table to help make the rules. But Ryan said members of Congress will need time to read and review the expansive 30-chapter deal, which is hundreds of pages long.
Asked if he supports it, Ryan said, "I don’t know the answer to what my position is on a trade agreement I have not even yet read.”
He added, “But again, I am pleased with the process we have coming before us."
Democratic Representative Sander Levin said: "It is vital that we use this 90-day review period – established for the very purpose of evaluating the agreement before the President signs it – to dig into the details and engage in a vigorous back-and-forth,"
The TPP was negotiated between the United States and 11 other nations- Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore,and Vietnam. When combined, these countries account for about 40 percent of global economic output. The partnership would create the world’s biggest free trade bloc and serve as President Barack Obama’s crowning achievement in international commerce.
Likely to Become A Campaign Issue
But the controversial trade deal’s ratification by Congress is anything but certain. The earliest it could come up for a vote is next March, which would be in the midst of the 2016 presidential campaign season. Several candidates, including Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, and Republican Donald Trump, have come out strongly against the TPP.
Democratic Representative Rosa De Lauro has been one of the leading members of the president’s own party organizing opposition to the TPP. She said resistance to the trade deal in Congress is growing, and that the dynamics of the debate are changing because of the presidential campaign.
Critics of the deal cite concerns about human rights and labor violations in some of the member countries, and say it will end up hurting American workers.
Asked about the chances of the TPP getting passed in Congress, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest was hopeful.
"The more people understand this agreement the more support it will have,” he said. Earnest said the White House is focused on lobbying Congress, and not on outside groups.
Obama and his administration have been negotiating the TPP for five years.
"The TPP means that America will write the rules of the road in the 21st century," the president posted on line. "If we don't pass this agreement - if America doesn’t write those rules - then countries like China will."
China is not one of the countries included in the TPP. It has responded with its own proposed 16-nation free-trade area, which includes India, and would be the largest in the world.