Pritzker Practices Alphabet on Detroit

Photograph by Nick Ut/AP Photo

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker discusses a new initiative to promote exports on Jan. 9, 2014.

Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker served Detroit a helping of Washington’s alphabet soup today, introducing the city to wonky acronyms like TPP, TPA and T-TIP as she seeks to sell President Barack Obama’s proposed trade deals.

“Together, these agreements that are called TPP and T-TIP, they are going to give our firms greater access to more than 60 percent of global GDP,” Pritzker told a lunchtime gathering of the Detroit Economic Club, on the sidelines of the Motor City’s auto show.

Huh?

Pritzker and other economic officials in the Obama administration are seeking support for two of the biggest free-trade deals in world history: the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with 11 other nations, and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP) with the European Union.

To close the accords, Obama wants Congress to give him trade-promotion authority (TPA), which prevents lawmakers from larding up the deals with amendments.

Even for the Washington crowd, accustomed to such jargon, it’s a bit confusing — and contentious. Labor unions, environmental groups and consumer organizations, which have serious reservations about the deals, speak in an entirely different vocabulary.

For them, “T-TIP” is the more mellifluous “TAFTA,” for “Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement.” “TPA” is the slick-sounding “fast-track,” for the way it can help smooth passage of trade deals. (Though everyone agrees on “TPP”.)

Administration officials don’t use such terms, which may have negative connotations among groups opposed to the deals. A Senate Finance Committee fact-sheet last week refrained from using the term “trade-promotion authority” for a bill called the “Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities Act of 2014.”

While the White House pitches its case to the world’s largest commercial deals, it’s encountering an issue that vexes even the simplest of businesses: branding.

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