U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor on Tuesday said negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact are still on track despite staunch opposition from both the Senate and the House to grant President Barack Obama fast-track authority.
“The members of the House of Representatives are going to cast their vote on TPA (Trade Promotion Authority) reflecting quality, if you will, of the agreement on TPP,” Canter, a Republican and a member of a congressional delegation, told reporters at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo on Tuesday. “We will be looking for this president to hopefully make some progress with the prime minister here on the issues.”
Ahead of Obama’s visit to Tokyo, which is slated to kick off Wednesday, the U.S. congressional delegation met with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday and urged him to take bolder steps on the TPP issues. Japan and the U.S. hope to announce a broader agreement during Obama’s visit, as the two nations believe the broader economic partnership will also serve as a counterforce against growing Chinese economic and military might. But talks between the two nations have been lackluster partly due to strong resistance from Japan’s powerful agriculture sector to open up its market.
The Republican Party, which controls the House of Representatives, is generally supportive of the free-trade framework, but any TPP treaties will have to be approved by the Senate, which is controlled by Obama’s Democratic Party.
But many Democrats on Capitol Hill, including House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, are very much opposed to TPA, which prevents Congress from altering an agreement that was already negotiated by members of the executive branch.
Experts say the United States is likely to have a harder time gaining concessions from other countries, including Japan, without TPA. Many negotiation partners fear that, without it, the agreement may have to be renegotiated once it is up for congressional approval.
Meanwhile, last-minute TPP negotiations before Obama’s visit continued in earnest Tuesday at the working level in Tokyo, after U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and economy minister Akira Amari failed to deliver a breakthrough last week in Washington, D.C.
Froman will also be accompanying Obama and Amari hinted at a possible meeting with him. But the economic and trade minister implied that it might be difficult to strike a deal during Obama’s visit.
“The broader agreement means that we have a prospect that we can agree (on tariffs) over the five agricultural items (rice, beef and pork, sugar, daily, and wheat) and autos,” said Amari on Tuesday. “But I feel there is still a large gap between us.”