BORACAY, Philippines (Reuters) - States hoping to set up a free trade zone across the Pacific can not hold a key meeting until both houses of the U.S. Congress pass legislation speeding the passage of the deal, a Chilean minister said, underscoring another major hurdle for the pact.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which would cover about 40 percent of the world’s economies from Japan to Chile, is nearing completion after more than five years of often heated negotiations.
Many in Washington see it as a crucial plank in U.S. plans to project American influence in Asia.
The 12-nation agreement took a significant step forward on Friday when the U.S. Senate agreed to give President Barack Obama powers to speed up Washington’s approval of trade deals.
But Chilean vice minister for trade, Andres Rebolledo, told Reuters that other countries wanted to delay a meeting on hammering out the deal’s final details until Obama’s fast-track powers had also been approved by the U.S. House of Representatives.
That could be a trickier task as opposition is deeper in the House of Representatives to granting the president power to negotiate trade deals that can be approved or rejected by Congress but not amended.
“Many problems have been solved, but there are countries that say they prefer to have all the elements on the table, and that includes TPA,” Rebolledo said, referring to the U.S. fast track powers, known as the Trade Promotion Authority.
“The original plan was to have a meeting in Guam ... but now we have to fix another date,” he added, regarding a ministerial meeting originally set for May 26-28.
The U.S. Congress does not return from a 10-day Memorial Day holiday until June 1 .
Australian Trade Minister Andrew Robb said on Wednesday the TPP talks could be concluded as early as June.
But Japan is one of the nations that has said it first wants to see the approval of the fast-track powers, which would remove some of the risk of a hold-up in Washington.
Chile was still negotiating sensitive issues related to intellectual property, particularly on patents for medicines, copyright in the digital environment, and services, Rebolledo said on the sidelines of an APEC trade ministers meeting on Boracay island in central Philippines.
Other TPP countries are Canada, Mexico, Peru, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, and New Zealand.
Much of the debate in the U.S. Congress has focussed on a proposed amendment covering sanctions on currency manipulation by trading partners. That amendment was defeated in the Senate after opponents it would sink the TPP and would violate international trade rules.
Rebolledo said no formal proposal has been put on the table on how else to address currency manipulation in TPP countries. Washington is hoping to use diplomatic routes to dissuade countries from deliberately weakening their currencies to make exports cheaper.
Reporting by Rosemarie Francisco; Editing by Andrew Heavens