TPP: A Conversation with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman

The following summary of the event is written by Natalie Smith, a student in FASH455 Fall 2016.

  • Michael Forman continually talked about the benefits of passing the TPP during the end of Obama’s term and during the lame duck period. If the TPP is not passed during this time, the bill could sit in congress for years since the two presidential candidates are against free trade.
  • Michael Forman also mentions some outstanding issues that have surrounded the TPP. One main problem is the dairy industry, which is export and import sensitive and the need for a balance to set their needs. Additionally, the pork industry has problems with implementation, especially with Japan. There are also concerns with the financial services and data flows.
  • However, Michael Forman stated the urgency of implementing the TPP as quick as possible. If it is not implemented rapidly China has the ability to set the rules of trade. China, similar to the U.S. wants to move into the Asian Pacific market, however the TPP has different objectives then other Chinese trade agreements. The TPP has a focus on labor and environmental standards and IP standards. Although, it seems the goal is to eventually get China to join the TPP. Forman mentioned if China does not end up joining the TPP, we want them to be forced to live in a TPP world, which includes high standards.
  • Michael Forman further discusses the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP), which they hope to soon reach an agreement on with the European Union. They recently finished their thirteenth round of negotiations, the main outstanding problems with the TTIP are the uneven growth, Greek crisis, and euro skepticism. Nevertheless, the TTIP is a positive agenda item to help promote job growth in Europe.

A few things that stuck out to me from this dialogue included Forman’s belief of California being the state to benefit the most from the TPP. Currently, California exports $170 billions of goods and are strong in manufacturing, agricultural, entertainment, IP industries, etc. I also found it interesting that he continually reiterated that we have not lost jobs in the U.S. solely because of globalization but mainly because of automation.

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Textile and Apparel in the 2015 US Trade Policy Agenda

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Two hearings were held on January 27 where US Trade Representative Michael Froman testified before the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways & Means Committee on the 2015 US Trade Policy Agenda. During the Senate hearing, two questions were directly related to the textile and apparel (T&A) industry:

Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) expressed concerns that inclusion of several concessions requested by Vietnam regarding rule of origin and short supply list for T&A in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will result in severe job losses and potentially hurt the T&A industry in the Western Hemisphere. In response, Froman said that:

“We worked in the textile area through the yarn forward rule, the short supply list, rules of origin and customer enforcement and corporation to take these things into consideration. We’ve worked very closely with textile manufacturers in the US who are part of this supply chain with Central America to get the best of our understanding of what are the sensitivities are and take that into account in our negotiations.”

John Isakson (R-GA) raised the question about China’s recent cotton reserve & subsidy policy and its negative impact on the world cotton price which “has declined from 83-85 cents/pound not a long ago to 55-57 cents/pound recently.” Isakson wondered if anything USTR would do to address the problem, such as bringing the case to the World Trade Organization (WTO) Dispute Settlement Body (DSB). In response, Froman said that:

“The whole pattern of agriculture subsidies has changed a lot over the last ten to fifteen years. When (WTO) Doha Round was first started, focus on the subsidy was really the United States and the European Union. But in both of those areas subsidies have come down, while subsidies from China and India in the agriculture area have been increased. By some measures, China is now the largest subsidizer of cotton. We are engaging with them. We have conversations in the last couple of days also about that, about taking a fresh look at where subsidies have been provided, how it distorted the market and how that should play into the global trading negotiations. It is important to update our views on where the subsidies come from and what impact it has. For poor farmers in Africa, it doesn’t matter whether the subsidies come from the US or from China. It matters that the subsidy exists and so we will be engaged with China on this and create some disciplines around us. We are looking at all options out there. We are not yet determined whether there will be a (WTO DSB) case brought in that area.”

Other hot topics covered by the hearing include passing Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) bill, creating jobs through trade, addressing agriculture, digital trade & data flow, State owned enterprises (SOE), currency manipulation, transparency and Intellectual property right (IPR) protection issues in TPP, strengthening trade enforcement, renewing African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), and making further progress of Trade in Service Agreement (TiSA) and Information Technology Agreement (ITA) at WTO.

The followings are some personal comments on the overall atmosphere in the Senate hearing:

  • It doesn’t seem possible to be able to conclude TPP without TPA, for at least two reasons: 1) Congress doesn’t want to give up its authority on trade policy. If TPP negotiation were concluded before the passage of TPA, Congress would feel it had little influence on shaping TPP through the mechanism of TPA trade negotiating objectives. This will add to the difficulty of potentially passing the TPP implementing bill under expedited legislative procedures. 2) Other TPP members, such as Japan, are unlikely to put the final offer on the negotiation table, especially for politically sensitive issues, without having the assurance provided by TPA.
  • There is a growing call for “strong” labor and environmental provisions in TPP. This is not surprising given the fact that the general public is attaching greater importance to labor and environmental impact of international trade. NGOs, such as labor and environmental groups have become more critical players in trade politics nowadays as well. Practically, strong labor and environmental provisions are regarded as important means to create “a level playing field” for US products competing in the world marketplace. These provisions can also be used as leverages to push for better human right practices in some foreign countries. That being said, as noted by many trade experts, trade policy shall not be expected to solve environmental and labor problems.
  • Currency manipulation becomes a hot discussion topic again, but USTR doesn’t seem to be interested in including the currency provision in TPP. Many senators raised the currency issue during the hearing, however, it shall be noted that: 1) Free trade agreement (FTA) and even WTO is not an appropriate venue to deal with currency issues; 2) the business community actually does not see currency as a priority issue to address. They care more about things like market access, IPR protection, national treatment and dealing with SOEs. 3) Currency manipulation provision is not an effective way to solve currency concerns. For example, it would be impossible to determine what shall be the “right” exchange rate–ten economists may give twelve different answers. 4) It will be interesting to see what language the potential TPA bill will use to define currency issue as a  trade negotiating objective.
  • Benefit of trade is still largely misunderstood. During the hearing, almost all support for TPA & TPP came from the export side: “export is good for the US economy”, “export can create higher-paid middle class jobs”, “US runs trade surplus with all FTA partners and all trade deficits came from those non-FTA partners”…However, nobody in the hearing talked about the benefits of imports and the global nature of supply chain in the 21st Mercantilism is still a popular view in Congress.

Sheng Lu