It’s been an interesting turn of events in the past few weeks for those watching the future of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Political platforms and shifting candidate viewpoints have further complicated the footwear industry’s hopes for passage.
The Republican Party has historically been the one in favor of free trade, but its platform and presidential nominee, Donald Trump, have been resoundingly anti-TPP and shifted the party significantly during the election process. At its convention this week in Philadelphia, the Democratic Party is finding its candidates in the crosshairs of anti-free traders frustrations, too. (Just look to Sen. Bernie Sanders supporters waving #noTPP signs in the crowd at the convention on Monday.)
Ultimately, insiders say the best strategy to get the deal through is for a lame-duck session. Experts say it will be easier if Hillary Clinton is the winner in November and if the GOP doesn’t lose its Senate majority. Should Trump win, the situation is much tougher.
“Whatever happens on Election Day will flip a switch. If Hillary wins and Trump loses, what will be left in his wake and the platform nonsense are Speaker [Paul] Ryan, chairman [Kevin] Brady and Leader [Mitch] McConnell, who are all pro-trade,” said Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America president Matt Priest. He added that should the GOP lose the Senate, they may choose to move the deal in a sort of “now or never” moment.
But even in the best-case scenario, it’s not guaranteed people will follow the party line.
Sanders, in his DNC address Monday night, made a vehement argument not to pass the 12-nation trade deal in the lame-duck session, and the Republican platform has gone as far as to specifically say no deals should be “rushed” through for a vote come November. The Democratic platform stopped short of calling off a lame-duck vote. The push from both parties may complicate how some members vote should the deal come up this fall and what leaders in the House and Senate ultimately decide to do with President Barack Obama’s signature economic achievement.
“The Democratic view on TPP is a no, but a softer no,” said Rick Helfenbein, American Apparel and Footwear Association president and CEO. “We hear of missing the ‘gold standard’ and not living up to expectations. [Vice presidential pick] Sen. Tim Kaine has shifted his liberal trade position to now agreeing with Secretary Clinton that TPP has fallen short on wages, national security and international disputes. These are positions that could be amended in the future.”
Complicating matters even more in the past weeks has been Clinton and Trump’s picks for VP running mates. Anti-TPP Trump turned around and selected historically pro-trade Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. Clinton famously had to backtrack last year for her support of the trade deal; her VP pick, Tim Kaine, was pro-TPP until he was selected for the role — at which point Kaine flip-flopped on the deal and came out against it, even though just a few days earlier he’d been supporting the agreement.
“It certainly would be nice if everyone could agree that trade is good for America,” said Helfenbein. “It’s painful to watch the trash-trade talk. We all hope the damage can be reversed in the years to come, but no matter how you look at USA trade policy, we have already suffered a major setback.”
Right now for industry insiders, the focus is on trying to make a convincing case for TPP and repairing the damage.
“I think there is a lack of trade leadership right now,” said Priest. “A real leader would stand up and say, ‘I support free trade, and the vast majority of America is for free trade and for economic advancement.’ “