Shipping containers stand at a port in Bangkok, Thailand on March 30, 2015. (Reuters Photo/Athit Perawongmetha)

Pacific Trade Pact Seen at Risk of Being Pushed Back Until 2017


MARCH 31, 2015

US Congress must grant President Barack Obama the power to fast track a Pacific trade pact covering 40 percent of the global economy or the deal risks being pushed back to 2017, Australia’s Trade Minister Andrew Robb said.

Parties to the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership won’t be prepared to finalize the deal unless Obama is given the ability in the next few months to expedite the accord through  Congress, a power known as Trade Promotion Authority, Robb said Monday in a phone interview.

Congress is considering legislation to ease the way for free trade deals by submitting them to a straight yes-or-no vote and blocking amendments. As that debate goes on, Congress remains the main obstacle to the broader deal, Robb said.

“There’s a real prospect that if it’s not broadly through the US system in the next few months then it will be put on ice and we’ll have to wait until after a new president’s elected,” he said, referring to the laws. “Something like a TPA will not be passed in a highly-charged political rundown to an election.”

Getting TPP — which excludes China — through has taken on greater urgency given a rival proposal from President Xi Jinping. Xi is pushing for the Free Trade Area of the Asia- Pacific as he seeks to counter US influence in the region. A new China-led Asia infrastructure bank has the backing of many Asian and European nations even amid US opposition.

Missed deadline

Talks among the TPP nations to wrap up the pact missed an initial deadline of late 2013, in part due to protracted negotiations with Japan about opening up its agricultural and automotive sector. US Trade Representative Michael Froman has said he hopes to close out the talks in the next few months. The pact goes beyond traditional deals in that it contains rules on trade in services, intellectual property and international data flows.

If completed, the accord would link nations with about $28 trillion in annual economic output. The 12 members are the US, Japan, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

Failure by Congress to pass the fast-track bill could cost the region hundreds of billions of dollars in lost economic growth, Robb said.

“It is going to have that much power to have one set of rules — more seamless trade, lower-cost transactions,” he said. “We are fundamentally well-placed to conclude it in a month or two months if the TPA gets the green light.”