US lawmakers ease Obama’s path to Pacific deal
Tokyo talks get push from ‘fast-track’ deal in US
Senior U.S. lawmakers reached a deal Thursday to make it easier for President Barack Obama to negotiate trade accords, including a massive deal with 11 other Pacific nations.
If Congress grants Obama socalled “fast-track” authority, it would let lawmakers vote to approve or reject the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership ( TPP), but prevent them from introducing changes to the largest accord since the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The legislation “contains the clearest articulation of trade priorities in our nation’s history,” said Senate Finance Committee chairman Orrin Hatch, who reached the deal with the panel’s top Democrat Senator Ron Wyden, and House Ways and Means Committee chairman Paul Ryan.
“We intend to move expeditiously on these bills,” Hatch told a committee hearing.
Obama had been under pressure to show progress on TPP before he hosts Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the White House on April 28.
The Obama administration is also deep in negotiations on a trade pact with the 28-member European Union.
Obama expressed optimism about
Top Japan and U.S. trade officials plan to meet this weekend, seeking to close gaps over autos and farm trade before Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visits Washington later this month.
Economy minister Akira Amari announced plans for the talks with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman late Friday.
The U. S. and Japan must agree on market-opening measures before the 12 countries involved can reach a longdelayed final accord on the U.S.- the congressional deal and said it was crucial the United States, “and not countries like China,” write the global trade rules.
“It would level the playing field, give our workers a fair shot, and for the first time, include strong fully enforceable protections for workers’ rights, the environment, and a free and open internet,” Obama said in a statement.
Wyden said the deal will allow a “fairer fight” and offer “no back door” for special interests to insert their priorities into the agreement.
The bill notably requires Obama to publish the TPP at least 60 days led Trans-Pacific Partnership, a Pacific Rim trade pact.
Key sticking points have been barriers to Japanese auto exports to the U.S. and U.S. farm exports to Japan. Some of those issues remain and may not be fully resolved until later 12-nation talks, and some are still at the working level, Amari said.
At the outset of the TPP talks, Japan identified five categories of agricultural products as “sensitive,” given its longstanding protections for politically powerful farm interests. They include beef and pork, wheat and barley, prior to signing it. Due to the timing of negotiations, Congress may have up to four months to review the accord before voting on it.
And it contains a switch that would allow lawmakers to turn off “fast-track” authority if they feel the trade deal fails to support U.S. priorities.
If negotiators “fall short and the product doesn’t meet our standards, Congress can still hit the brakes on a bad deal,” Wyden said.
House Speaker John Boehner, who has long pushed for a new trade policy, hailed the deal and said it would “strengthen” congressional sugar, rice and dairy products.
Advocates of the TPP, which is seen as a first step toward a much wider free trade region, say it will encompass 40 percent of all economic activity.
The gaps between the U.S. and Japan, relative to the importance of the TPP, are so small that “it seems almost inconceivable that either Tokyo or Washington could let them stand in the way of a TPP agreement,” Richard Katz, a long-time Japan observer and editor of The Oriental Economist, said in a recent commentary. authority over a final trade accord.
U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman gave a cautious thumbs up to the legislation.
“At first glance we see very important developments in terms of negotiations objectives,” Froman said, mentioning progress on preventing unfair competition from state-owned enterprises and safeguards for U.S. products including agriculture.
A tough legislative battle over “fast-track” authority lies ahead. A Senate aide said lawmakers want to start the process quickly so the wrangling does not drag deep into the 2016 presidential race.