On the home stretch, the most ambitious trade agreement in history is stumbling over special interests of each country

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In the end, the Trans-Pacific Partnership’s biggest enemy won’t be liberal politicians, labor unions or environmentalists. It will be nations looking out for the interests of some of their most politically potent industries.

The New York Times published an update on negotiations, which are not going well.

Mexico and Japan are at loggerheads about giving their auto industries an advantage over the other. Vietnam won’t liberalize its state-owned industries. Canada and New Zealand are fighting over dairy exports. And almost everyone is opposed to special protection for America’s big pharma companies.

“Final negotiations over the trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, are not like a checkers game with Congress, pitting two branches of government and two parties against each other. Rather, all 12 nations are asserting their particular economic and political interests in a multiple-dimension chess match, with one problem often setting off another,” the NYT reported.

TPP is being sold as a “high-standard, 21st century” trade agreement among the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim nations. It would be the largest such deal since NAFTA and is largely being negotiated in secret, with industry having special access among the stakeholders in Washington.

Critics have raised a host of concerns. In addition to the secrecy, they worry about further loss of domestic jobs, environmental degradation, special deals for big business and the failure to include Asia’s largest economy, China. Indeed, some see TPP as a soft power part of President Obama’s “pivot to Asia,” a way to contain China.

These were swept aside when Republicans in Congress ensured that President Obama would receive so-called fast track authority on trade deals — Congress could only vote the final agreement up or down, no amendments.

As it turns out, ironing out this highly complex trade deal among the potential signatories remains the biggest roadblock. TPP is already years behind schedule. The Obama administration remains committed to pushing forward. But the agreement may still be a work in progress when the next president takes office in 2017.


Today’s Econ Haiku:

Rats in Seattle?

True, WaMu’s ex-CEO

Evaded the trap