US hopeful of better progress on TPP in April

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The US administration failed to meet its self-imposed deadline of December 31, 2013, for completing the far-reaching free-trade deal – the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the centerpiece of President Obama’s plan for “rebalancing” U.S. policies toward Asia. The US government has been thwarted by gridlock in Washington, by opposition in his own party and by complex negotiations among the 12 Pacific Rim nations in East Asia and the Americas on topics such as intellectual property rights and agricultural tariffs.

The U.S.-led TPP agreement would impose new rules on environmental protection and workers’ rights on 40 percent of the world’s economy, including Japan, Canada, Mexico, Chile, Australia, the Philippines and Vietnam. China, notably, is not part of the talks. According to estimates, the U.S. economy would grow by US$ 78 billion per year because of new trade opportunities opened up by the accord, particularly if Asian agriculture trade barriers are lowered in the final deal.

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U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman emerged from the latest round of talks in Singapore in mid-December proclaiming “momentum” for reaching a deal. The ministers from the participating countries said they had agreed on “landing zones” — areas of potential cooperation — but they did not indicate that a formal agreement is imminent.

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In November, 151 House Democrats sent a letter to Obama opposing TPA. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, Connecticut Democrat, said they are concerned about the loss of more than 5 million U.S. manufacturing jobs since the North American Free Trade Agreement was signed almost two decades ago. Outside liberal groups long skeptical of free-trade agreements and their impact on domestic workers are also mobilising against theTPP.

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Obama is scheduled to travel to Asia in April, and administration officials are still hopeful that the free-trade deal can be reached in time for his trip.

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