WASHINGTON – A senior official of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said Friday she expects the 12 countries negotiating a Pacific free trade initiative to strike a deal “before June.”
Tami Overby, the chamber’s senior vice president for Asia, told an event that if Congress enacts a bill that grants President Barack Obama fast-track authority to push trade deals, final offers will come together for an agreement on the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
On the timing of a deal, Overby said, “I am betting, before June.”
A bill for so-called Trade Promotion Authority could be introduced in Congress as early as the first week of March, she said.
Overby was optimistic about the United States and Japan reaching a bilateral deal under the U.S.-led TPP over Tokyo’s exceptional tariffs on five agricultural products — rice, beef and pork, wheat, dairy products and sugar.
“We are making significant progress on commercially meaningful access in those significant products,” she said.
An agreement between the two largest economies in the TPP framework has been seen as vital to signing a deal.
Overby quoted key trade negotiator Wendy Cutler, the acting deputy U.S. trade representative, as saying it was a shock to see how “forward-leaning” Japan was during recent bilateral rounds.
Cutler has been involved in working-level negotiations with her Japanese counterparts over the farm produce issue as well as nontariff barriers in the Japanese automobile market.
Overby joined U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and Federal Reserve chairwoman Janet Yellen in opposing the idea of including a clause that bans currency manipulation in the TPP and any other trade deals.
“At this late stage, to drop something very politically difficult on the table, I think, would have disastrous consequences,” Overby said, indicating the marathon talks on the TPP, which have lasted five years already, are nearing an end.
Some U.S. lawmakers have requested that trade deals include a provision against currency manipulation as the recent appreciation of the dollar, which is partly linked to the Bank of Japan’s weakening of the yen over the past two years, has hurt American exporters.