THE BUSINESS DANCE ON TPP: With business groups calling on the administration to address their complaints with TPP even as they endorse it, the National Foreign Trade Council talked with reporters on Thursday about how that might play out. The main issues are insufficient monopoly protection for biological drugs, the carveout from the investor-state dispute settlement mechanism for tobacco-control-related complaints, and a provision that would allow governments to restrict where financial services firms can store data.
"We certainly understand there are 12 partners, and USTR endeavored to find the sweet spot, ... but that said, we believe there are ways to improve the agreement," Chuck Dittrich, NFTC's vice president for regional trade initiatives, said at the group's annual forecast press lunch, arguing similar improvements happen with every free-trade deal. He cited side letters, language in the implementing legislation, clarifications from trading partners, or wording in the "statement of administrative action" that accompanies the implementing bill as places where the administration could address business worries.
"That said, that doesn't mean that we're not supportive and recognize the significance of the agreement," he added.
EASIER SAID THAN DONE? NFTC President Bill Reinsch acknowledged that some issues would be easier than others to address. For some, he said, the U.S. needs to get out of its own way.
"In a couple cases, I think the negotiation wasn't between the United States and the other 11, the negotiation was between the USTR and the Treasury Department in the case of financial services," he said. "And in the case of tobacco ... that was really USTR negotiating with HHS. As long as we're negotiating with ourselves, that's a problem that we can fix, assuming the administration is willing to do that."
On biologics, he said, it depends on whether industry is more concerned about the policy in other countries, or whether it's worried about losing the existing level of protection in the U.S. "If the problem is getting other countries to provide the same level of protection as the U.S., that will be very difficult; they've been very clear they don't intend to do that," Reinsch said. "If the problem is a concern that in the process of doing all this the level of protection in the U.S. might erode, ... that's something the Congress can address by making clear that they don't intend to have that happen, assuming that's what they think."
OTHER NFTC PREDICTIONS...
- On TPP, Reinsch predicted there will be hearings in March or April, followed by whip counts that will help the administration determine when to submit the implementing bill. But he noted the fast-track clock limits how long the president can wait because Congress has so few days in session this year, what with the presidential elections.
"Just looking at the clock, if you wanted to guarantee a vote by the end of this year, you probably have to submit the bill in the spring sometime, and that is a tricky calculation because that probably means submitting the bill before they have a very firm [vote] count," he said.
Dittrich also said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch will probably want assurances on biologics before holding a markup.
- On trade talks with Europe, Dittrich predicted they will be concluded this year. But he said a significant increase in political will was unlikely because of the European migrant crisis and the "specter of terrorism," as well as public criticisms of the deal itself, which will make it hard to get "the attention necessary and the commitment necessary to make the changes in culture that changing regulatory processes represent."
So he predicted the deal would be a "more modest agreement" along with a "beefed-up" set of consultation mechanisms.