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US commerce chief sees TPP agreement this year

Taipei Times, Taiwan

US commerce chief sees TPP agreement this year

‘WORLD NOT WAITING’::The US may lose out on setting the trade rules, with other nations pushing their own bilateral pacts, the US agriculture secretary said

27 April 2014

Bloomberg/US Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker said she thinks the US and 11 other nations brokering an Asia-Pacific trade deal will reach an agreement they can send to the US Congress this year.

“I’m pretty optimistic about what can happen,” Pritzker said in an interview for Bloomberg Television’s Political Capital With Al Hunt, airing this weekend. “We’re down to the endgame of this negotiation.”

Negotiators are still working to conclude the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free-trade deal, which would be the largest such accord in US history. It would link a region with US$28 trillion in annual economic output, about 39 percent of the world total.

The US and Japan remain at odds over market-access rules for goods, including agriculture and autos, even after US President Barack Obama’s visit to Asia this week, where he met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. A statement from US Trade Representative Michael Froman’s office said the two nations have reached “a path forward” in the talks and will continue negotiations.

“They’ve had breakthroughs,” Pritzker said, and “they’ve identified pathways to resolution on a number of issues.”

In addition to the US and Japan, the nations working toward the deal are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

The Obama administration is marshaling some of its top officials to make the case for its trade agenda, even as differences remain among the TPP partners.

Pritzker, US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz attempted to rally support for the Pacific agreement — and US exports in general — during a panel discussion at the US Export-Import Bank’s annual conference in Washington on Friday.

Vilsack, who called the TPP “vital,” said the US risks losing out on setting the trade rules as other nations move ahead with their own bilateral and regional accords.

“We’ve got to move forward here very quickly because the rest of the world’s not waiting,” he said.

Lawmakers, including US Representative Sander Levin of Michigan, the top Democrat on the US House Ways and Means Committee, and officials from Ford Motor Co have said they want the Pacific agreement to include provisions to prevent currency manipulation.

Pritzker said on Political Capital that she thinks the currency issue will be handled “within the boundaries of what the US Treasury Department can live with.”

The Obama administration is also trying to convince lawmakers to pass so-called fast-track legislation that would prevent lawmakers from amending completed accords. Many members of the US Congress, particularly Democrats, have objected, saying they want more say in trade deals, before ceding their authority.

“There is no appetite to provide the administration with fast-track authority to ram another bad trade deal through Congress,” US Representative Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat, said in a statement yesterday. The US should focus on improving the middle class, she said.

Pritzker said it may be easier to pass the legislation, also known as trade-promotion authority, as the Pacific-region talks get closer to their conclusion.

She also said the US should invest more in infrastructure and pass immigration-reform legislation.

The US is an attractive place for businesses to invest because of low-cost energy, the rule of law and a skilled workforce, Pritzker said.

“I’ve talked to 1,000 business leaders since I’ve been in office in 10 months,” Pritzker said. “People are very optimistic about America.”