TPP Trade Deal Expected in Early 2014

Trade ministers from 12 countries negotiating the Trans Pacific Partnership free trade agreement were unable to reach a deal following a four-day meeting in Singapore this week.

But analysts expect quick progress in the coming months on the ambitious, United States-led trade pact, which will cover nearly 40 percent of global economic output when completed.

The Obama administration had aimed to finalize the agreement by the end of the year. But after the Singapore meetings, a statement Tuesday said only "substantial progress" was made.

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman expressed optimism for the next round of talks to be held in January.

"Over the course of this meeting, we identified potential landing zones for the majority of key outstanding issues in the text. We will continue to work with flexibility to finalize these text issues as well as market access issues."

The main unresolved issues have to do with state-owned companies, agricultural tariffs and intellectual property rights.

Gary Hufbauer, an analyst with the Washington-based Peterson Institute for International Economics, says he is optimistic, even though significant barriers remain.

"These are all pretty difficult issues, so I think objectively it was not possible to conclude at Singapore here in December. But I think we could get very close to a conclusion in January, if by then the U.S. has enacted this trade promotion authority bill," he said.

Hufbauer is referring to legislation that would give the White House so-called "fast-track" authority to negotiate trade agreements without submitting every detail to Congress for approval.

On Tuesday, Congressman Dave Camp, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said he expects lawmakers to pass such legislation by early 2014.

Deborah Elms, head of the Singapore-based Temasek Foundation Center for Trade and Negotiations, says if everything goes smoothly, there could be a TPP deal before April, when President Barack Obama is set to tour Asia.

"And it would be nice if they could announce that it's done when he comes or for him to take a tour through the region and be able to stand with leaders out here and say 'We're so pleased to be able to reach an agreement, and here's why it matters,'" she said.

Elms, and other analysts, say the TPP will unleash large amounts of economic growth and jobs in the 12 member countries.

The countries negotiating the TPP are the U.S., Vietnam, Singapore, Peru, New Zealand, Mexico, Malaysia, Japan, Chile, Canada, Brunei, and Australia.

VOA News / Dec. 12, 2013 08:02 KST