Last month President Obama took a historic trip to Southeast Asia to strengthen U.S. ties in the region and promote a 12 nation trade deal. If Congress were to sign off on it Wyoming could benefit. That’s because it would lower tariffs on U.S. meat exports while also making it easier for energy firms to export gas overseas.
While Wyoming’s junior senator John Barrasso has never officially signed off on the final package, he supported a measure – called Trade Promotion Authority – that allows the president to fast track the deal. Barrasso made this statement in March.
“You know I’m a free trader, I think that trade is very important for the people in Wyoming, we hear it from our cattlemen and …with regard to liquefy natural gas and our ability to export energy products from the state. We send a lot of coal overseas, so I’ve been working to promote trade to help our products at home.”
This month Barrasso was a little less enthusiastic and indicated that Republicans had other issues on the table.
“I don’t see any votes scheduled, we’re going to focus on the appropriations bills.”
Senator Barrasso also avoided saying whether he supports the package. So what changed?
Virginia Democrat Gerry Connolly who helped the president pitch the deal to skeptical members of their party said its politics.
“It’s become political fodder in this campaign on both sides and why do you want to make yourself more of a target?”
That’s right – even some of the agreement’s biggest supporters don’t want to see the package voted on until after November’s elections. Connolly said it’d be foolish to wait until January to bring up the deal because presumed Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and his Democratic counterpart Hillary Clinton have come out opposed to the deal.
“It is of concern that obviously the perception is trade is a liability in this campaign.” Said Connolly.
Wyoming Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis took a trip to the region this year. She said after meeting with officials in Indonesia, Japan, New Zealand and Australia she got a new perspective on the deal.
“I went from being very lukewarm to it, to being a supporter, I am a supporter much to my surprise and if I hadn’t gone on that trip to Southeast Asia I don’t think I would be as strong of a supporter as I am now.”
Lummis said she knew that cattlemen back home wanted the deal, but she added that the trip was eye opening.
“What I didn’t realize until I went to Southeast Asia was the geopolitical importance of TPP, and specifically there are countries that are very uncomfortable and oppose what China is doing in the South China sea and their aggressive island building and moving military presence into those islands, but they won’t say so publicly.”
Lummis said leaders from other nations won’t speak out because China is currently their largest trading partner, but she says under the trade deal – or TPP – the U.S. and Japan would be able to flex their economic muscle in the region.
“They wouldn’t be so dependent on China and we would be more apt to speak out for these aggressive positions that China is taking in the South China Sea and elsewhere. So, it became really apparent to me that TPP is tied to geopolitical benefits that go way beyond trade.”
For that reason, Lummis wants to move quickly and have a vote this summer.
“Yeah, I would rather not do it in the lame duck, I would rather do it before the election, but time will tell. It’s got to build some momentum so the leadership in both parties can even decide whether it merits a vote whether it’s late September or sometime in December.”
With trade being a liability in Election 2016, some analysts are predicting the next president will have to renegotiate the deal, which may prove impossible with U.S. allies in the region who don’t want the deal changed anymore.