Little headway on Trans-Pacific free trade deal

(By Deutsche Welle) During his trip to Asia, US President Obama proved unable to resolve differences with Japan over the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Now back in Washington, the president faces growing opposition to the ambitious trade deal.

It’s one of the most ambitious free trade agreements ever undertaken, according to Peter Petri, an economist with the Peterson Institute for International Economics. The Trans Pacific-Partnership (TPP) would deepen integration among 12 economies in the Americas and Asia, covering 40 percent of the world’s economic output and 26 percent of its total trade.

The free trade negotiations currently include Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam and the United States.

“The TPP is part of a big long-term strategy that Obama has inaugurated and has been a center piece of his trade policy as well as in some ways his geopolitical reorientation of American policies toward Asia,” Petri told DW.

“It’s partly a rebalancing of the military forces that the United States has around the world, but especially it’s an effort to re-orient the American economy to the fastest-growing markets of the 21st century,” he added.

Congressional opposition

But Washington’s pivot toward Asia has proven difficult to manage. Returning from his Asia tour, President Obama proved unable to resolve differences with Japan over tariff barriers in the agriculture and automotive industries. The disagreement between the TPP’s two heavyweights is one of the key factors that have delayed the negotiations. A deal was supposed to have been reached last December.

As Obama settles back into Washington, he faces stiff domestic opposition to the free trade deal from his own party. In the House of Representatives, 151 Democrats oppose renewing the so-called fast-track authority. Under fast-track rules, Congress can vote up or down on a draft deal submitted by the president, but cannot add amendments to the draft. The idea is to expedite the passage of complex trade agreements.

“Politics in the United States has really slowed down, meaning that the president did not get trade promotion authority which is a kind of negotiating tool that would have made it possible for him to conclude the deal quickly,” Petri said. “Because he doesn’t have that, the Japanese are reluctant to make the very tough political concessions that they have to make in the end for the deal to happen.”

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