US vote leaves Pa­cific trade talks in limbo


How slow can you go? The ef­fort to get trade U.S. trade leg­is­la­tion through Congress, clear­ing the way for progress on an Asi­aPa­cific trade ac­cord, is in limbo once again.

The U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives on Fri­day shot down a pro­posal to give Pres­i­dent Barack Obama author­ity to ne­go­ti­ate global trade deals for con­gres­sional ap­proval or re­jec­tion, with­out amend­ments.

Among U.S. trad­ing part­ners, the set­back was viewed more with res­ig­na­tion than panic.

Sup­port­ers of the trade pact say it is needed to give the U. S. and other par­tic­i­pants a chance to help fash­ion rules for trade in the 21st cen­tury. Crit­ics ob­ject to con­fi­den­tial­ity re­quire­ments pre­vent­ing dis­clo­sure of de­tails of the ne­go­ti­a­tions, view­ing the over­all agenda as be­ing too aligned with the in­ter­ests of big busi­ness.

House law­mak­ers ap­proved trade ne­go­ti­at­ing power for the pres­i­dent, 219-211. But they re­jected a pro­posal to re­new fed­eral aid for work­ers who lose their jobs due to im­ports, by a vote of 302-126.

Rules re­quired that the House ap­prove both parts of the leg­is­la­tion, pre­vi­ously ap­proved by the Se­nate, so the “No” vote meant de­feat for the over­all pack­age, a de­ci­sion that could be over­come af­ter fur­ther con­gres­sional ma­neu­ver­ings.

Trade of­fi­cials in Ja­pan and Australia re­acted to the de­feat of the Trade Pro­mo­tion Author­ity, or so-called “fast-track author­ity,” by say­ing that with­out it, the ef­fort to forge the 12-na­tion Tran­sPa­cific Part­ner­ship trade pact was un­likely to suc­ceed.

“Congress puts Obama’s TPP on ice,” read a front-page head­line in the Yomi­uri news­pa­per.

“Vot­ing re­sults are very tricky,” it and other lo­cal me­dia quoted the TPP min­is­ter, Akira Amari, as say­ing.

Amari said it was un­likely that the 12 coun­tries ne­go­ti­at­ing the trade pact would man­age to hold min­is­te­rial-level meet­ings be­fore the end of this month as orig­i­nally planned.

Trade Pro­mo­tion Author­ity leg­is­la­tion ran into a sim­i­lar hur­dle in the U.S. Se­nate, but even­tu­ally passed, so Fri­day’s vote could be just a tem­po­rary set­back.

But it adds to the con­stant de­lays that could pre­vent Obama from get­ting a fi­nal trade pact agree­ment with the 11 other na­tions par­tic­i­pat­ing be­fore the U.S.-side be­comes too em­broiled in cam­paign­ing for the 2016 elec­tions.

Any change to the bill in the U.S. House would re­quire Se­nate re­con­sid­er­a­tion of the leg­is­la­tion, slow­ing the process fur­ther.

“But, for the White House and busi­ness com­mu­nity, de­lay is bet­ter than de­feat,” said Richard Katz of the Ori­en­tal Econ­o­mist Re­port.

“We are not pre­dict­ing that TPA will pass the House. That vote is still too close to call. What we are say­ing is that it’s too early to start putting nails in the cof­fin,” he said in a com­men­tary.

Australia’s trade min­is­ter, An­drew Robb, said he was op­ti­mistic the coun­tries in­volved in the trade talks can reach an agree­ment.

“There is an­other op­por­tu­nity next week to get the ducks lined up,” he said on Satur­day. “There is al­ways a lot of cut and thrust in th­ese things and pol­i­tics be­ing played.”

The ne­go­ti­a­tions, in­tended to even­tu­ally cre­ate a re­gion-wide free-trade area, in­volve Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Ja­pan, Malaysia, Mex­ico, New Zealand, Peru, Sin­ga­pore, the United States and Viet­nam.

Other dif­fi­cul­ties in­clude dis­agree­ments over mar­ket open­ing re­quire­ments for cer­tain in­dus­tries such as farm­ing, han­dling of dis­putes, re­forms of state-run in­dus­tries and more rig­or­ous pro­tec­tion of in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty such as patents and trade­marks.

China, as the world’s sec­ond­largest econ­omy and a ma­jor trad­ing part­ner of most coun­tries in the re­gion, is not in­volved in the trade pact talks.

Its of­fi­cial Xin­hua News Agency ob­served af­ter the vote that most par­tic­i­pants in the ne­go­ti­a­tions are re­luc­tant to make any po­lit­i­cally costly changes un­til Obama gains fast-track author­ity.

Asked dur­ing a rou­tine brief­ing on Fri­day if the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship ini­tia­tive is an ef­fort to “con­tain” China, slow­ing its as­cen­dance as a re­gional power, For­eign Min­istry spokesman Hong Lei re­it­er­ated Bei­jing’s calls for trade rules that al­low for di­ver­sity.

“China would like to ac­tively en­gage in build­ing a re­gional co­op­er­a­tion frame­work with re­gional coun­tries which is open, in­clu­sive, bal­anced and in fa­vor of shared in­ter­ests, push­ing ahead with re­gional eco­nomic in­te­gra­tion,” Hong said.

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