WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama’s top Asia adviser said on Wednesday the president’s request for trade promotion authority shows the administration’s goal is to complete a major trade pact with Asia this year.
Evan Medeiros, senior director for Asia at the U.S. National Security Council, asked about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) at an event at the Brookings Institution, said: “We are confident we can and we will get it done.”
“The president made very clear last night that TPA (Trade Promotion Authority) and TPP is now a top presidential priority and now is the time to get it done,” he said, referring to Obama’s annual speech on Tuesday.
“The U.S. is, I think, in the end game of its negotiations with its TPP partners about what needs to be completed, both the market access component and the rules making component. The fact that the president has now requested TPA from Congress is a political statement that the goal is to get it completed in 2015,” he added.
The major trade pact with Pacific Rim trading partners would link 12 countries from the United States to Japan, Australia and New Zealand and cover nearly 40 percent of the world economy.
Disagreement between the United States and Japan, the pact’s two biggest economies, over how widely Japan will open its doors to farm exports has hindered progress on the agreement.
Medeiros said the pact is the number one priority in the U.S. relationship with Japan.
“We have got to get TPP done - the last big market access negotiation with Japan. It’s hard because anything important between two large economies is hard to do, but we are in the end game and now is the time to get it done.”
A Japanese government official familiar with the talks, asked to comment on Medeiros’ remarks, told Reuters by e-mail: ”The negotiations are in the last stage and negotiations can be closed soon with joint efforts of all negotiating partners.
“We welcome President Obama requesting TPA from the U.S. Congress as evidence of the President’s serious engagement with TPP.”
A statement from Australian Trade Minister Andrew Robb was similarly optimistic.
“I think the momentum is there to conclude and I feel the window is open in the first half of this year to make it happen,” he said by e-mail.
”Given the transformational benefits the TPP presents in terms of supporting growth, jobs and the enhanced flow of trade and investment between countries representing 40 per cent of global GDP, I think the negotiating parties have an obligation to our countries to do what we can to bring this to a conclusion,” Robb added.
Senior negotiators from TPP countries are to meet next on Monday in New York.
Medeiros reiterated that Asia’s rising economic powerhouse, China, was welcome to join the TPP in future, along with many other countries, “if they are willing to meet the high standards.”
“I think the Chinese view of TPP has shifted over time,” he said. “Originally in 2011...it was seen as anti-China. I think many Chinese have come round to recognising that TPP could be a very useful external force in encouraging additional structural changes in the Chinese economy, similar to the role the WTO (World Trade Organization) played.”
While China has said it is open to joining TPP, it has also mooted a separate Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP) framework.
Additional reporting by Linda Sieg in Tokyo and Jane Wardell in Sydney; Writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli and Raju Gopalakrishnan