U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer notified Congress on Oct. 16 that the administration will utilize Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) to negotiate trade deals with the European Union, Japan, and the United Kingdom. Last week’s notifications are significant because they start “the clock” on TPA procedure. Per the 2015 law, which allows the administration to negotiate trade deals using Congressional negotiating objectives, the President must notify Congress of its intent to negotiate a trade deal 90 days before formal negotiations commence. Thus, the earliest the administration can begin talks with the EU and Japan is January 14, 2019, and the earliest it can with the U.K. is March 29, 2019, which is the day the U.K. will officially leave the EU as part of “Brexit.”
There are questions surrounding the scope of the potential trade deals with the EU, Japan, and U.K. While the administration continues to argue agricultural tariff and nontariff barriers should be a part of any trade talks with the EU, Brussels continues to publicly flag agriculture as a “non-starter” for its member states. Similarly, the Japanese have indicated they will offer no more market access for U.S. agriculture than what was provided in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is now the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership. Finally, the U.K. still has not reached an agreement with the EU on its withdrawal from the trade bloc. In the event of a “soft-Brexit,” a situation in which the U.K. would keep many of the same tariff levels and regulations as the EU, the U.S. would arguably have a more difficult time negotiating greater market access and removal of nontariff barriers as it would face many of the same hurdles as it has in the past with the EU.