Obama hopes for Pacific trade pact in November
Pacific trading partners hope to have a free trade agreement ready to present to the public and stakeholders in November, U.S. President Barack Obama said on Friday.
He said the aim was to have a document to discuss with other leaders of Trans-Pacific Partnership nations when he travels to Asia in November, a trip that will include the Group of 20 leaders meeting in Australia on November 15-16. Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders also meet that month.
The United States holds mid-term elections on Nov. 4, and many trade experts had despaired of finalizing the TPP this year because of the risk that it could cost Obama's Democrats votes at the poll, given the party's links to trade unions worried about the impact of trade agreements on jobs.
Obama said he discussed a timeline to complete the deal this year with New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, whose country is one of 11 others in the pact covering two-fifths of the world economy and a third of global trade.
"Our hope is by the time we see each other again in November, when I travel to Asia, we should have something that we have consulted with Congress about, that the public can take a look at, and we can make a forceful argument to go ahead and close the deal," he told reporters after the meeting.
"But we've got a lot of work to do between now and then."
The White House hoped to complete the TPP, part of Obama's strategic shift toward Asia, last year, but talks stalled over Japanese tariffs on agricultural imports. Tokyo wants to shield rice, wheat, dairy, sugar and beef and pork products, while Washington seeks to protect U.S. carmakers from increased Japanese competition.
But participants reported new momentum after a U.S.-Japan summit in April. A Mexican official told Reuters some countries were pushing to get an agreement in September at the latest, although other participants are less optimistic.
Australian Trade Minister Andrew Robb, who visited the United States last week, was reported as saying on June 18 there was no chance of a deal this year, though he hoped it could be concluded in the first half of 2015.
Key, who has said Japan should be cut out of the deal if it cannot make the necessary concessions, said he was confident of reaching a high-quality, comprehensive TPP.
"There's always a period of sort of arm-wrestling that goes on between the parties, and sometimes it always feels a bit darkest before the dawn," he said.
The other TPP members are Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. (Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Writing by Krista Hughes; Editing by Dan Grebler)