WASHINGTON, Oct 5 (Reuters) - A 12-nation Pacific Rim trade pact hammered out over the weekend in Atlanta got a rocky response in Washington on Monday from U.S. lawmakers, indicating it has a long, difficult road ahead as Congress considers whether or not to approve it.
Even influential Republicans, who had championed the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), initially criticized the result but didn’t pinpoint specific concerns.
“I am afraid this deal appears to fall woefully short,” said Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee that oversees trade.
Earlier this year after a bruising battle, Congress gave Democratic President Barack Obama the green light to wrap up talks on the TPP, which would liberalize trade among countries ranging from Japan to Chile and covering 40 percent of the world’s economy.
Obama had hoped to quickly conclude talks on the agreement so Congress could review and vote on it before the U.S. presidential campaigns shifted into full swing. That hope was dashed by delays around the negotiating table, however.
Now the pact is unlikely to come before Congress for an up-or-down vote until well into the presidential primaries, exposing it to the full rhetoric of the campaign season.
Many of Obama’s fellow Democrats in Congress and organized labor fear the trade pact will hurt American jobs.
Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent seeking the Democratic nomination for president, blasted the agreement saying, “Wall Street and other big corporations have won again.”
Months are likely to go by as the TPP package is finalized, reviewed and debated by Congress. Under “fast-track” authority granted by Congress, lawmakers have the power to review the agreement and cast an up-or-down vote, but not amend it.
Representative Sandy Levin, the senior Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee that also oversees trade, warned that a 90-day review period could result in adjustments.
Levin applauded the pact for making progress on worker rights issues in Vietnam and Malaysia and on tobacco issues. He added, however, that Mexico must do more to comply with an existing free-trade deal with the U.S.
The Obama administration is hoping a well-coordinated campaign over the next several months will convince lawmakers that the free-trade deal will have more benefits than costs.
Republican Representative Kevin Brady, a senior member of the Ways and Means Committee, said in a statement: “Done right, this agreement will open a billion middle class customers to American goods and services.” (Reporting by Richard Cowan and David Lawder; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Meredith Mazzilli)