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TPP Unlikely to Be Considered by Congress Until Next Spring or Summer

The U.S. International Trade Commission announced on 17 November the institution of its investigation of the likely economic impact of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. However, the timing associated with this investigation could slow the Obama administration’s push to submit TPP implementing legislation to Congress in early 2016 in hopes of securing approval before the presidential and congressional election campaigns heat up.

U.S. Trade Representative Mike Froman had asked the USITC to complete this investigation and submit its report “as soon as possible.” However, the USITC listed 18 May 2016 as the anticipated date for transmitting its report. That would be 104 days after 4 February, the date President Obama is expected to sign the TPP because it is just beyond the statutorily mandated 90 days after his 5 November notification to Congress of his intent to sign it.

While the USITC could conceivably submit its report before 18 May, the timeline for its investigation indicates that it will take several months just to conclude the process of gathering information. A public hearing will be held on 13 January, requests to appear at this hearing are due by 22 December, and pre-hearing briefs and statements are due by 29 December. The USITC is giving interested parties until 22 January to file post-hearing briefs and statements and 15 February to file all other written submissions.

The USITC’s economic impact analysis of an FTA is typically submitted to Congress at the same time as implementing legislation, but this is not a legal requirement. The White House could therefore conceivably submit such legislation before the USITC’s report is done, though lawmakers would undoubtedly wait to hold a final vote on it until they receive that report. In light of these timelines and constraints, Congress could begin consideration of the TPP as early as March or April but more likely in May or June. Once legislative consideration begins, the House and Senate would have up to 90 legislative (not calendar) days to either approve or reject that bill. If congressional consideration begins in May and the allotted period for consideration is used in its entirety, a vote would not occur until 2017 under a new president.

Assuming the implementing legislation is approved, it would likely be at least another year or two (or perhaps longer) before TPP provisions start taking effect. The TPP is expected to be signed 4 February 2016 in New Zealand, although that date has not been formally endorsed. The TPP text provides that the agreement will enter into force 60 days after the date on which all original signatories have notified the depositary in writing of the completion of their applicable legal procedures. If this does not occur within two years from the date of signature, the agreement will enter into force 60 days after the expiry of this period if at least six of the original signatories that together account for at least 85 percent of the combined gross domestic product of the original signatories in 2013 have notified the depositary in writing of the completion of their applicable legal procedures. The United States and Japan would both have to ratify the agreement in order for any group of six signatories to achieve the required 85 percent threshold, and that group would probably also need to include Australia, Canada and/or Mexico.  

This means that, if the agreement is indeed signed on 4 February 2016, there is a reasonably good possibility that the deal could officially enter into force on or about 4 April 2018, although further delays are very much possible.

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