WASHINGTON—Hillary Clinton has scrambled the political picture for the Trans-Pacific Partnership by coming out Wednesday, Oct. 7, against ratification of a trade initiative she enthusiastically participated in.
The sudden opposition from the prominent presidential candidate indicates the long, hard road ahead for ratification of the 12-country agreement that includes Canada.
It illustrates that even if the deal passes in Canada’s Parliament after the election, it still faces an intense months-long debate in the U.S. that will play out against the backdrop of a presidential campaign and could ultimately be torpedoed.
When she was secretary of state, Clinton helped launch the TPP process. Now, as a presidential candidate, she says she’s learned a bit about the deal and doesn’t like what she sees.
“Based on what I know so far, I can’t support this agreement,” Clinton said in a statement, two days after the agreement to create the world’s largest trading bloc.
“I appreciate the hard work that President Obama and his team put into this process and recognize the strides they made. But the bar here is very high and, based on what I have seen, I don’t believe this agreement has met it.”
She said trade deals must create good American jobs, raise wages, and advance national security.
Clinton said the TPP appeared to fail that test, explaining in a separate interview that it failed to properly address currency manipulation in Asia. She also expressed concern about the potential impact on global drug prices.
Many pundits commenting in social media reacted with cynicism. Some compared it to her opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline. Others cited the need to court labour-union donations.
Virtually every political commentator expressing an opinion described it as a move to win support on the left, and stop a surprisingly strong challenge from her socialist rival Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Some noted the track record of saying one thing in a primary race, and governing differently: both Clinton and then-rival Barack Obama promised to reopen NAFTA in 2008—then once in office, they didn’t, although some TPP provisions would replace parts of NAFTA.
Regardless of that skepticism, Clinton’s words could have an impact.
The ratification vote in U.S. Congress is expected to be tight. The margin between success and failure is believed to be about 10 votes, based on the results of a fast-track trade bill earlier this year.
And political forces are now closing in from the left and right, squeezing the pressure on the middle-of-the-road Democrats and Republicans whose support will be key.
In the Republican party, populist forces—including the poll-leading Donald Trump—are denouncing the deal. Among Democrats, all three leading presidential candidates are now against TPP. If Vice-President Joe Biden enters the race, he would become the only pro-TPP candidate in that party.
One former Bush-era trade official, Timothy Keeler, predicted this week that the agreement might pass Congress next November or December during the so-called lame-duck session.
That’s after the presidential and congressional elections, and before the new Congress takes office.
The White House said it received a heads-up from Clinton’s campaign on her TPP position as it did with Keystone. It’s the strongest example of her opposing current White House policy, as she grapples with twin pressures: trying to win an election, while maintaining unity with Obama.