Has Obama bailed out on the pan-Pacific trade deal?

Wouldn’t you just know it? One of the rare times when the GOP actually found common ground with Barack Obama and fought successfully against congressional Democrats may turn out to be a dud. The pan-Pacific trade negotiations (which have basically fallen out of the headlines lately) have essentially stalled. This comes much to the dismay of Japan and leaves some of the other members in the prospective partnership wondering if the United States has simply given up on the process. (Reuters)

Japan has expressed concern about a loss of momentum in talks on a pan-Pacific trade pact after participants failed to agree to meet again this month to try to clinch a deal that would cover 40 percent of the global economy.

Ministers from the 12 nations negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which would stretch from Japan to Chile, fell short of a deal at talks last month on the Hawaiian island of Maui, despite early optimism.

Japanese Economy Minister Akira Amari, in a blog circulated on Tuesday, also questioned why the United States appeared to have lacked its usual “stubborn persistence” at those talks, despite a willingness of some countries to stay to try to reach an agreement.

“The reason I stressed … that we should meet again this month was because each country might lose interest and (the talks) would go adrift,” Amari wrote.

The Japanese Economy Minister is being abundantly clear and rather blunt in his assessment, expressing repeated concerns not that the deals under discussion are unreasonable or that there is no path forward, but that the United States representatives have simply given up. We’re apparently being viewed as lacking the “stubborn persistence” American teams normally show and that we might be in need of a break. If everyone takes off at this point, the negotiators are afraid that we’ll be essentially starting over, assuming we can get everyone back at the table in a reasonable time period.

Not that I ever thought this was going to wind up being a good deal for the United States to begin with, but the sticking points are interesting. The United States is supposedly fighting to ensure a 12 year window of protection for intellectual capital rights, particularly as it applies to the development of biologic drugs. Most of the other participants are obviously not interested in that since robbing the United States of patented new technology is a popular pastime around the world, not just in China. Other countries, such as New Zealand, are fighting to make sure they get unfettered access to “other member markets” by which, of course, they mean American markets. They want to export their dairy products in a far more aggressive, unfettered fashion. This helps pretty much everyone… except American farmers.

In some ways I would likely be happier to simply see the US “give up and walk away” rather than giving away the farm to these other nations. (Somewhat literally in this case.) But it’s still a bit of a black eye for the United States if we made such a big deal over the importance of this pact and then gave the appearance of losing interest and wandering away. The pan-Pacific pact is shaping up to be a huge fail all the way around if something doesn’t change soon.