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Congress, midterms and the TPP

US mid-terms elections will take place on 4November, with polls suggesting the Republicans will re-take control of the Senate. President Obama’s next steps on the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), what his Administration says is the key economic plank of the rebalance to Asia, will be heavily influenced by the outcome of this election. A Republican majority probably bodes well for President Obama’s chances of finalising the TPP.

President Obama delivering the State of the Union address, 28 January 2014.

As a key component of Obama’s foreign policy legacy, the rebalance to Asia enjoys more or less bipartisan support. Congress understands the necessity of it, though it has from time to time put forward ideas about how it might be alternatively resourced.

Free trade, however, does not attract broad bipartisan support. Complicating matters, Congressional ascent is required for ratifying trade deals; the Republicans are traditionally pro-trade, whereas the Democrats are not. When negotiations heat up, a wide range of well organised and resourced interest groups apply targeted pressure to members of Congress, which leaves those from trade-sensitive electorates vulnerable to a backlash from campaign funders and constituents if they come out in support of trade.

Consequently, trade policy debates in the US tend to be more divisive than in Australia, where a bipartisan consensus is by now broadly entrenched. This is despite a recent Pew Research poll showing that a majority of Americans say they support free trade (even if they are not quite as optimistic about it as some other countries).

Another striking difference between the Australian and American conversations about TPP is that in the US, the economic rationale for the deal only forms one part of its overall appeal. All branches of the US government see the TPP as a crucial geopolitical move …read more

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