Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Trade Talks in Limbo: What Happened in the U.S. Congress, and What Happens Next

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Trade Talks in Limbo: What Happened in the U.S. Congress, and What Happens Next

Article excerpt

Trade talks in limbo after U.S. vote shocker


WASHINGTON - For the U.S. president, it was a day of humiliation. For international free-trade talks, a moment of hesitation.

A dozen countries including Canada are now probing the debris from a disastrous day in Barack Obama's efforts to reach a major trade deal.

It'll quickly become clear whether the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement was temporarily diverted by the U.S. Congress on Friday or more permanently derailed.

Obama made an extremely rare visit to Capitol Hill to lobby members of his own party to support a provision that would be a precursor to a so-called fast track toward a deal.

He did something similar a few years ago with his signature health legislation in jeopardy. That time, he won. This time, Obama's Democratic allies sent him back up the street to the White House, empty-handed.

The insta-reaction from some commentators was that this heralded the final, lame-duck phase of Obama's presidency. Others saw proof of the Democratic party's leftward drift.

A veteran of the original Canada-U.S. free-trade negotiations explained the stakes for the international community: Unless the president gets fast-track authority, a trade agreement becomes a long shot.

Gordon Ritchie was a senior Canadian negotiator of the original deal and recalled that talks only got serious after lawmakers gave Ronald Reagan that power.

"For a year and a half, with great hubbub and fanfare, we'd engaged in an elaborate ritual mating dance. But we never consummated," Ritchie said in an interview earlier Friday.

The momentum gathered once Congress gave up its power to amend the accord, and agreed to simply vote Yes or No to the final deal -- a process better known as fast track. That's when the sides attacked the main sticking point: a mechanism to settle disputes between governments and companies.

Key issues in the present-day talks include intellectual property, such as what power pharmaceutical companies might have to extend drug patents, and agriculture subsidies. …

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