The Democratic Trade Expert Trying to Take Down TPP
Policy + Politics

The Democratic Trade Expert Trying to Take Down TPP


There’s no shortage of Democrats out there taking shots at the Trans-Pacific partnership trade deal that the Obama administration is pushing to conclude, but not all of them can claim to have read it. Michael Wessel can, and he’s doing his best to tell the world that the deal isn’t everything it’s advertised to be.

As a “cleared liaison” to two advisory committees to the trade negotiators, Wessel has seen the language of the deal, and he’s plainly not happy about it. In an article published in Politico today, he says that many of the criticisms leveled by opponents of the deal, like Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, are correct, even though he is legally barred from discussing specifics.

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“We should be very concerned about what's hidden in this trade deal—and particularly how the Obama administration is keeping information secret even from those of us who are supposed to provide advice,” he writes. “The government has created a perfect Catch 22: The law prohibits us from talking about the specifics of what we’ve seen, allowing the president to criticize us for not being specific.”

Wessel blasted the administration for being unfair to the very people who were tapped to advise the president, and who question the harm TPP might do.

Wessel comes to the discussion of TPP with decades of experience in the world of trade negotiations, making his criticisms difficult to dismiss. A former general counsel and top advisor to former House Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt, he served on Capitol Hill for more than 20 years, participating in the passage of every trade bill enacted over two decades.

Wessel has been appointed to numerous government panels and commissions related to international trade, serves on the board of the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Related: McConnell Says TPA Will Counter Chinese Dominance

His broadside in Politico wasn’t his first attack on TPP. In a column on the CFR website published last week, Wessel and co-author Daniel Slane, both of whom serve on the U.S-China Economic and Security Review Commission, assailed claims that TPP would help U.S. blunt China’s growing influence in the Pacific.

The United States’ Asian trading partners aren’t gravitating toward China, they argue. They’re scared of China.

“Proponents who argue that the TPP is vital to countering China’s ambitions are ignoring the fact that those countries aren’t rushing into China’s embrace,” they write. “In fact, just the opposite is true….Our “pivot to Asia” doesn’t need to be anchored by a new preferential trade agreement.”

Democrats in the House of Representatives are threatening to withhold the votes needed to give President Obama Trade Promotion Authority – the ability to present a completed deal to Congress for an up-or-down vote. As Obama’s former chief of staff Bill Daley wrote in The New York Times yesterday, such a move would be a “serious rebuke” to the president by his own party.

As more voices like Wessel’s join the chorus against the bill, such a rebuke begins to look more likely.

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