WASHINGTON – U.S. President Barack Obama said Friday he hopes to have an agreement on framing a vast pan-Pacific trading block by the time he makes his next visit to Asia in November.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership would encompass 40 percent of the global economy and include 12 nations. Talks on setting up the pact have been delayed by intricate market access negotiations between Japan and the United States.
Obama said he discussed the latest timeline for the deal with New Zealand’s Prime Minister John Key in the Oval Office, and that he hoped to have a related “document” by the end of the year.
“My hope is that by the time we see each other again in November, when I travel to Asia, we have got something that we have consulted with Congress about, that the public can take a look at,” Obama said, though he warned there was a lot of work still to be done on an agreement.
Obama is due to travel to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Beijing, the East Asia summit in Myanmar and the G-20 summit in Brisbane, Australia, at the end of the year.
Chief negotiators from countries set to join the TPP are due to meet again in July. In the last talks in Singapore in May, trade ministers agreed on an intensified timetable for talks, but could not say when a final deal might be concluded.
The negotiations have been slowed while the United States and Tokyo debate key details, including Japanese tariffs on agricultural imports and U.S. access to Japan’s auto market. Together, the two countries make up 80 percent of the total GDP of the prospective free trade area.
Outside the United States, there are concerns that Obama may struggle to win congressional backing for the deal — especially in a year when lawmakers are facing mid-term elections in which free trade is always a divisive issue.
That is one reason why Obama rarely mentions the TPP without touting it as a significant job-creating opportunity for the U.S. economy at a time of still-high unemployment.
A spokesman for the U.S. Trade Representative’s office said the talks would ultimately be completed “when we have a strong deal to bring home to the American people.”
“The president will next see the key leaders in Asia in November. That will be a chance to discuss negotiations and to build on the momentum of the past few months,” the official said.
The 12 prospective TPP members are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.