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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

By Sean Cockerham and Franco Ordonez, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration has revealed its trade pact with Pacific nations, a sweeping and controversial deal igniting fierce opposition from President Barack Obama’s Democratic allies.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement published on Thursday has been a long-time coming, and with a brutal political fight on the horizon it could be longer still before states ever reap its touted benefits. From agriculture to intellectual property, the pact among the United States, Canada, Mexico, Japan and eight other Pacific nations affects a huge array of commodities and concerns.

It promises new markets and millions of new consumers for, say, cotton from Texas, wine from California and pork from North Carolina as tariffs and trade barriers are lowered for nations around the Pacific Rim. And it offers assurances about jobs, labor protections and the environment.

Yet the agreement has to run a gauntlet of congressional skepticism and protectionist presidential politics going into the 2016 elections, as well as the sluggishness of a political system where personality and deep ideological division have been a legislative roadblock.

“It eliminates 18,000 taxes that various countries put on American goods,” Obama wrote in a blog post on Medium. “When it comes to Asia, one of the world’s fastest-growing regions, the rulebook is up for grabs. And if we don’t pass this agreement — if America doesn’t write those rules — then countries like China will.”

The Trans-Pacific Partnership pits Obama against Democratic presidential contenders Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, who supported the negotiations as secretary of State but has since turned against the deal. Sanders asserts it would expose American workers to competition with low-wage foreign labor, saying in a tweet Thursday that “I will do everything I can to defeat the TPP. We need trade policies in this country that work for working families, not just CEOs.”

The deal puts congressional Republicans, who have supported the negotiations, in the position of voting to give a victory to a president they loathe or going against business allies who want a trade pact.

“I continue to reserve judgment on the path ahead,” House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said in a written statement. “But I remain hopeful that our negotiators reached an agreement that the House can support because a successful TPP would mean more good jobs for American workers and greater U.S. influence in the world.”

Obama has to wait 60 days before signing the agreement and sending it to Congress for a review, which would last another month at least. That pushes the contentious issue into a point next year where the presidential campaigns will be in full swing — Republican Donald Trump has joined Democrats Sanders and Clinton in expressing opposition to the Pacific trade deal.

It’s questionable whether Congress would act on the trade deal in such a hothouse election year, particularly with congressional campaigns ramping up. So the issue could be pushed off until the next president is in office. A Senate Republican who will be particularly influential in the debate, Orrin Hatch of Utah, is voicing skepticism about the final deal, a bad sign for Obama given the lack of enthusiasm among members of his own Democratic Party.

(Michael Doyle of the Washington Bureau contributed.)

©2015 McClatchy Washington Bureau. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Map of the U.S. trade balance with TPP countries. Tribune News Service 2015