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U.S. Reiterates Goal of Finishing TPP Talks This Year

Tuesday, February 18, 2014
Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg Trade Report

Two senior Obama administration officials said Feb. 14 that the U.S. is still aiming to complete negotiations on a Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement this year. The officials opined that if those talks are successful at generating a sufficiently strong agreement it will ultimately be approved by Congress.

President Obama will participate in an annual summit meeting with the leaders of Canada and Mexico Feb. 19, and trade is expected to be a major topic of discussion. Particularly, the administration officials said, the three leaders will discuss ways to strengthen “North American competitiveness as a whole, because when North America is functioning well as a trading block it strengthens our position in the global economy.” Like the panelists testifying at a recent congressional hearing, the officials said that NAFTA has benefited all three partners but that improvements are needed. TPP provides that opportunity, they said, by “introducing additional standards” that are not currently part of NAFTA, thus turning that pact into “a 21st century high-standards trade agreement that … is both in the interest of our prosperity here at home and also will strengthen the position of North America as it relates to some of the fastest-growing emerging markets in the Pacific.”

With that in mind, the officials said, “it is still very much our goal to complete a TPP agreement this year.” They noted that negotiations have “progressed to the point that we are really dealing with some final sets of sensitive issues in each of the nations, which is normal as you get towards the end of a trade agreement,” but they did not indicate what those issues are or what it might take to resolve them.

The officials largely sidestepped questions about prospects for TPP in light of the increasingly vocal opposition to pending legislation that would reauthorize trade promotion authority, which some observers say is needed to reassure trading partners that a final agreement will not be altered by U.S. lawmakers. They appeared to downplay the necessity of TPA, suggesting that Congress and the public will support the TPP once they can review it and see that it is “profoundly in our national interests” and “has the potential to create an enormous amount of jobs in the United States.” They also pointed to congressional approval of free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama by “broad, bipartisan majorities” as proof that “we can get high-standard trade agreements through Congress.”

Also at this week’s summit the three countries will focus on other ways to further streamline trade among themselves, the officials said. Discussions will include harmonizing trade information for importers and exporters, collaborative transportation planning, improving border infrastructure, reinvigorating work on regulatory cooperation and facilitating trusted traveler programs.

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