Yesterday, the twelve countries negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) announced that they have reached an agreement. While this represents a significant milestone after more than five years of intensive negotiations, there is still a long road ahead before this agreement can enter into force for the United States – from releasing text to the public to finalizing the legal text to securing U.S. congressional approval.

Recently passed Bipartisan Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), which sets out the procedures for securing congressional approval of the deal, requires, among other things, that the President:

  • Notify Congress and immediately thereafter the public of the President’s intent to sign the agreement at least 90 days before the President does so
  • Make the text of the agreement publicly available at least 60 days before the President signs the agreement
  • Submit to Congress a list of required changes to existing laws to bring the U.S. into compliance with the agreement within 60 days after entering into the agreement
  • Submit to Congress a copy of the final legal text of the agreement at least 30 days before submitting the implementing bill

TPA timelines mean that the earliest the President could sign the agreement would be January 2016, assuming that the President notifies his intent to sign the agreement quickly. It also means that congressional consideration of the bill cannot begin until the spring.

Historically, Congress has a good track record of passing trade agreements, though these votes are often close and cannot be taken for granted. However, whether legislation to enact the TPP agreement as announced can pass the Congress may have just become harder. In an unusual step, the chairmen of both Congressional committees with oversight over trade matters expressed reservations about the deal reached yesterday. Highlighting “concerns surrounding the most recent aspects of the agreement,” House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) stated publicly that he is “reserving judgment” until he can review the final text. Meanwhile, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) issued a statement that the agreement “appears to fall woefully short” of the “high-standard objectives laid out in” TPA.

Any prospect of congressional passage of TPP in 2016 will require the Administration to clearly demonstrate how the text of the agreement reached yesterday will advance the objectives set out in TPA. Otherwise, entry-into-force for the U.S. – and possibly for our trading partners depending on the requirements of the agreement for ratification – could be delayed for several years to come.