US law­mak­ers ease Obama’s path to Pa­cific deal

Tokyo talks get push from ‘fast-track’ deal in US

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY MICHAEL MATHES BY MARI YA­M­AGUCHI

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.

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