Even with negotiators for the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) talks gathered last week in Hawaii, progress on this critical agreement to growing ag exports remains stalled by the lack of U.S. trade promotion authority (TPA). 

Several negotiating partners, including Canada and Japan, have publicly stated they will not put their final negotiating positions on the table until Congress grants TPA for the Obama Administration. With a presidential election looming in the United States, further delay creates a real risk of TPP being delayed until 2017.

TPA remains stalled, however, in the Senate Finance Committee. Early this year, trade watchers were hopeful legislation would be introduced with bipartisan support and move through the Committee in February. It now appears that April 1 may be the earliest date for introduction, with the scheduled Easter recess postponing floor consideration even further.

TPA has traditionally been employed by administrations of both political parties to negotiate major trade agreements. Much of the bargaining in such agreements is extremely sensitive politically on all sides, and negotiators are unwilling to make difficult concessions without a guarantee that what is agreed to will remain in the final text. TPA provides that any final agreement reached by U.S. negotiators will be voted up or down by Congress as a package, without amendment. It thus assures negotiators from other countries that a “final deal” reached with the U.S. will indeed remain final.

Japan is among the TPP parties that are waiting for TPA, and a final resolution of the long-standing bilateral negotiations between the United States and Japan is widely viewed as the linchpin to concluding the five-year-old TPP talks. The chief negotiators in Hawaii this week are continuing to work, but only seven of 30 chapters are reportedly completed.

A ministerial meeting scheduled for mid-April to strike a final TPP deal is now falling into doubt, but there is considerable pressure to conclude the negotiations by May so Congress can consider an agreement in 2015. At the same time, while the Administration and industry groups are strongly advocating support for TPA, opponents of both trade measures are mounting strong grassroots opposition. Delay in the passage of TPA works to the advantage of those trying to kill a deal.