Trade, TPP Becomes Key Issue In Presidential Primary

Ted Cruz
Ted Cruz during his Iowa Caucus acceptance speech.
AP Images.

The presidential primary season has officially kicked off with last night’s Iowa Caucus.

While all eyes turn to New Hampshire for next week’s primary on Tuesday, the leading candidate policy proposals are beginning to become a growing outside influence in politics on the Hill and could jeopardize current trade policy now and into a new presidential term.

Of the four leading candidates — Sen. Ted Cruz and Donald Trump for the GOP and Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the Democrats — all have voiced their disapproval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The TPP stands to not just open markets for U.S. shoe brands, but also save millions on international tariffs.

Sanders and Cruz have both gone on record saying they’d vote against TPP if presented in Congress. Cruz said he was “deeply concerned” about the deal in a Des Moines Register interview.

Sanders flatly called the agreement one of the worst he’s seen after the text was released in November. “It is clear to me that the proposed agreement is not, nor has it ever been, the gold standard of trade agreements,” he said sparring with Clinton, who had at one time said she hoped the TPP would be that gold standard.

Clinton reversed her longtime support of TPP in October and Trump called the deal “horrible” in a November presidential debate in Wisconsin.

With Thursday’s formal signing ceremony for TPP set in New Zealand, the fight for approval by Congress is only going to intensify. Besides outside noise adding another distraction, the deal is also facing a shortened calendar for approval, which would leave the deal in limbo after Obama’s term.

Steve Lamar EVP of the American Apparel and Footwear Association, said he doesn’t expect the administration or leadership in Congress to present the TPP until the votes are aligned, which could be as soon as May or within the next two years. But he is skeptical that the politicians running for office will create enough outside buzz to distract from the Congressional debate.

“Political campaigns often add a lot of noise to a lot of issues,” said Lamar. “I think the focus is on how members of Congress feel that the agreement affects them and their constituents.”

Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America president Matt Priest said he was less concerned about candidates on the trail as he was about the members of Congress up for re-election and facing possibly anti-trade opponents.

“Any time major candidates turn against something there is always a major reverberation throughout particularly in the House,” said Priest. “I do know that the administration and leadership in Congress is well aware of the chances of moving the agreement as it gets closer to Election Day gets more and more difficult. Not only just because of the amped up rhetoric but also because we’re running out of legislative days.”

Either way, the deal is facing more than just presidential political rhetoric: it’s also facing a legislative calendar left with about 70 days before Congress becomes “Lame Duck.” Without passage before the end of President Obama’s term though, a new president could easily reverse course on the agreement and as the leading candidates have indicated, they’re not fans.