Pacific trade ministers reach deal, doubt about approval remains

Updated: 2015-10-06 09:21


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Pacific trade ministers reach deal, doubt about approval remains

Trade ministers of the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim countries attend a press conference after negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement in Atlanta, the United States, on Oct. 5, 2015. Trade ministers of the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim countries "have successfully concluded" the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade talks, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said Monday. [Photo/Xinhua]

ATLANTA, the United States - Trade ministers of the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim countries have reached an agreement on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade pact, but the final ratification of the ambitious deal in the TPP members is far from certain, particularly in the United States.

"After more than five years of intensive negotiations, we have come to an agreement that will support jobs, drive sustainable growth, foster inclusive development, and promote innovation across the Asia-Pacific region," said US Trade Representative Michael Froman said at a closing press conference after about five days of round-the-clock TPP ministerial meeting was concluded here.

Froman said negotiators will continue to work on technical issues for preparing a complete text for public release, including the legal review, translation, and drafting and verification of the text, to formalize the outcomes of the agreement.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership would affect 40 percent of the world economy. Trade officials had originally planned to wrap up the talks in Atlanta, capital of the US state of Georgia, Thursday, but a final deal was delayed by bitter fight over agricultural market access, rules of origin for autos and intellectual property protection for a new generation of drugs known as biologics.

As Canada, the third-largest economy in the TPP framework after the US and Japan, has shifted into federal election campaign mode, trade ministers were under pressure to get an agreement before the Canadian federal election on Oct. 19.

While Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is a strong supporter of the TPP, his prospect in the federal election remains unclear.

Tom Mulcair, the leader of Canada's New Democrat Party, which until recently was leading the polls, warned Friday that the new government he may form will not be bound by any TPP deal signed by Harper if he wins the federal election.

While negotiators have touted the expanding opportunities for trade and investment in goods and services among the 12 countries, trade unions, environmental groups, consumer and heath care organizations across the US have come together to organize protests against the TPP in front of the Westin Hotel in downtown Atlanta, the site of the TPP negotiations, out of various concerns.

"We are very concerned because the TPP has been negotiated behind the doors ... We're concerned about the impact on good jobs in the United States and in other TPP countries ... We're concerned about whether corporations could sue our governments outside our court system," Melinda St. Louis, director of International Campaigns with Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy organization in Washington D.C., the US capital, told Xinhua.

"Since the beginning of the negotiations, we have made very concrete proposals that have different models of the trade agreement, and those concerns have been largely ignored," St. Louis said. "We think it would be a mistake to conclude the deal now from what we know."

Some influential US lawmakers were also cautious about the final TPP trade agreement announced Monday.

"While the details are still emerging, unfortunately I am afraid this deal appears to fall woefully short," said Orrin Hatch, Chairman of Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over trade, in a statement. "Over the next several days and months, I will carefully examine the agreement to determine whether our trade negotiators have diligently followed the law so that this trade agreement meets Congress's criteria and increases opportunity for American businesses and workers."

As US President Barack Obama has to notify Congress at least 90 days before he can sign the TPP agreement, it still has a long way to go before the deal reaches US Congress for possible ratification.

"Once negotiators have finalized the text of this partnership, Congress and the American people will have months to read every word before I sign it. I look forward to working with lawmakers from both parties as they consider this agreement," US President Barack Obama said in a statement.

The earliest date for a final TPP vote in US Congress would be in February 2016, when presidential nomination contests kick off in early voting states including Iowa and New Hampshire, according to trade experts at Public Citizen.

Several Republican and Democratic presidential candidates have begun attacking the TPP, raising concerns about potential job losses in the United States. As the TPP could become one of the hot-button issues in the U.S presidential campaign, it will be very difficult for US Congress to pass the trade deal next year. The resignation of US House Speaker John Boehner in late October will make it harder.

Boehner announced later last month he would step down as the House Speaker and leave Congress at the end of October, a move that shocked the Capitol Hill and exposed the deep tensions within the Republican Party.

Boehner played a key role in helping facilitate the passage of trade promotion authority (TPA) earlier this year, which would allow the US president to submit trade deals to Congress for an up-or-down vote without amendments.

The TPP could be voted on expeditiously in Congress next year only if Congressional leaders and the Obama administration work very closely together to craft an implementing legislation for the trade agreement, said Jeffrey Schott, a senior fellow and trade expert at the Washington-based Peterson Institute for International Economics.

"How the successor to Speaker Boehner will work with his counterpart in the Senate and with President Obama is uncertain. That would be a key variable I think in determining how smoothly the TPP moves toward ratification in Congress," he added.

The TPP talks involve Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.

China's Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng said earlier this year that China is open to all the free trade arrangements that are beneficial to the world's trade liberalization and regional economic integration, as long as they are open and transparent.

China will continue to study and assess the impact of the TPP and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), another free trade agreement under negotiations by the US and European Union, on regional and global levels, and in the meantime pursuing and accelerating China's own free trade zone strategies, said Gao.