Republicans drop TPP from platform

Another setback for the trade deal, which needs US ratification to come into effect.

The Republican Party has dumped any mention of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement from its platform, the Wall Street Journal reports (the platform, or policy manifesto, won’t be officially unveiled until the Republican Convention, which kicks off in Cleveland, Ohio from July 18-21).

At the last presidential election, the Republican platform actively promoted the TPP, in keeping with the party's decades-long push for trade and globalisation.

But presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump has savaged the trade deal, in line with his generally protectionist line. Mr Trump calls the TPP a “disaster” that would cost American jobs to the advantage of China (another voice on the right, Niall Ferguson, ironically opposes the TPP in part because he sees it as a ham-fisted attempt to exclude China).

Although there is no mention of the TPP itself, the platform features heavily protectionist language, including the paragraph: “We need better-negotiated trade agreements that put America first. We cannot allow foreign governments to limit American access to their markets while stealing our designs, patents, brands, know-how and technology.”

And the very Democrat/Trump-sounding: “Any future trade agreements must make sure our trading partners can’t undercut American workers by taking shortcuts on labor policy or the environment.”

The TPP has been put a footnote in US media coverage of the platform. The Journal's initial coverage concentrated on the fact the Republicans' 2016 manifesto is almost “Victorian” in its heavy focus on social conservatism, including opposition to gay marriage. That’s potentially awkward for Mr Trump, who has previously been relatively liberal on social issues – although that didn’t stop him winning bible-belt states like South Carolina during the primaries.

No mention beats negative mention
The TPP’s omission from the Republican platform is not the death knell for trade deal (which needs US ratification to come into force). As everywhere, parties in the US don’t necessarily stick to their election manifestos. And TPP boosters can say that no mention beats a negative mention. Indeed, the US Chamber of Commerce was quick to label it a victory.

However, the platform’s tub-thumpingly protectionist language overall will make it harder for TPP boosters in Congress (who are mainly Republican) to gain the momentum they need to get the trade deal ratified before the staunchly anti-TPP Mr Trump or Hillary Clinton gains office. TPP advocates have largely given up hopes of a ratification vote before the election but are still angling for the so-called “lame duck” session in December before President Obama leaves office.

The TPP faces three obstacles: getting ratified by the House of Representatives, getting ratified by the Senate, and then being signed into law by the President. Based on interviews with Congressmen, RealClearPolitics says support for the trade deal is on the wane. House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (both Republicans) both say they are not sure the TPP still enjoys majority support (and it should also be added that their TPP comments are few and far between; despite the Beehive’s enthusiasm for ratification, the trade pact doesn’t seem anywhere near the Republican leaders’ to-do lists. Both are  consumed by the convention and broader infighting with their presidential candidate).

Democrats also drop mention of TPP
The Democrats have also erased any mention of the TPP from their platform (most details of which emerged mid-June). In their case, it would seem the move is motivated to avoid embarrassment as the pro-TPP President Barak Obama campaigns for the anti-TPP Hillary Clinton.

RealClearPolitics reports, “The [TPP] issue came to a head during the fight over Democrats’ convention platform. Senator Bernie Sanders, the runner-up to Clinton for the nomination, pushed for language opposing a [TPP ratification] vote in Congress on the agreement at all this year, an unusually specific item for a platform plank. President Obama told Senator Sanders personally that he wouldn’t allow that to happen, and the language ultimately wasn’t included.”

In a similar vein, the New Yorker also reports that Senator Sanders pushed hard for Ms Clinton to take a harder anti-trade line but that she resisted. That allows her to stand on the same stage as Mr Obama without either feeling sheepish. But TPP advocates will also hold the sliver of hope that it's a sign Ms Clinton is returning to her initial enthusiasm for the trade deal (which, as Senator Sanders frequently pointed out on the primary trail, she once called "gold-plated."

Again, for TPP boosters, no mention of the trade deal at least beats a negative mention. Ignoring the trade deal gives Mrs Clinton more wiggle-room to adjust her position after winning the White House. TPP advocates hope that like Bill Clinton before her (who campaigned against the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1992 but supported it after gaining office), she’ll pivot to the right post-election.

But even if Ms Clinton does come around, she will potentially face a Congress hostile to the trade deal.

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