Obama administration stalls economic engine of new free-trade pacts

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The White House also is banking on the eventual implementation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free-trade agreement among the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, New Zealand and others.

The member nations held their 13th round of talks in San Diego this month, and Mr. Kirk hailed “substantial progress” toward opening more Asian markets for American goods.

The 14th round of talks will commence in September.

“This would be a big deal for us in a couple of senses,” said Jeffrey J. Schott, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics and a specialist in international trade policy.

“For one, this is not just [a free-trade agreement] with a couple of small countries. By the time the deal closes, you’re going to have, perhaps, 13 countries that account for a huge economic area and a large amount of trade involved. It also gives us a chance to upgrade the [agreements] we already have with a couple of countries, such as Mexico and Canada,” he said.

But the deal also has raised objections from a variety of factions, including several key Obama constituencies such as labor unions and university professors.

“Although we would welcome [the Trans-Pacific Partnership] that creates good jobs … American, Canadian and Mexican workers cannot afford another corporate-directed trade agreement” such as NAFTA, labor leaders from the AFL-CIO, the Canadian Labour Congress and Mexico’s National Union of Workers said in a joint statement this month.

The academic world also has reservations about the agreement, chief among them the fear that U.S. intellectual property laws would be superseded by those in other nations involved with the Trans-Pacific deal.

The details of the agreement’s intellectual property statutes have been kept largely under wraps, said Sean Flynn, a law professor at American University and one of more than 30 academics who signed a letter to Mr. Kirk this year calling for the Obama administration and other governments at the negotiating table to be more transparent.

“They’re doing this through a very secretive process,” he told The Washington Times. “Very few of the stakeholders affected, especially consumers and a whole host of competitors, from businesses to copyright and patent holding companies, are being consulted on this.”

Confronting China

While the Trans-Pacific Partnership could become a political success for Mr. Obama and a boon for American businesses, U.S. failure to adequately deal with China’s currency manipulation, analysts say, is holding up the agreement.

China is bullying Obama. That’s why it’s taking so long. We can’t get [other nations] to buy into our model because they’re watching China bully us,” said Mr. Morici, the University of Maryland scholar.

The Romney campaign has zeroed on Mr. Obama’s economic policy toward China, claiming the nation’s massive borrowing from the burgeoning Asian superpower has removed any leverage that the U.S. might have had.

Mr. Romney has vowed to declare China a currency manipulator and has said the two nations are already essentially in a trade war.

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