Obama urges push to break TPP logjams

By Daniel Enoch

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WASHINGTON, Nov. 10 - President Obama is urging the leaders of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) nations to “break some of the remaining logjams” that are holding up agreement on the ambitious free trade deal that he calls a “high priority” for the U.S.

Obama was speaking today in Beijing where he is attending an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Beijing and where trade is one of many items that are under discussion. Addressing reporters at a meeting of TPP leaders at the U.S. Embassy, Obama said that over the past few weeks teams from the dozen TPP nations have made “good progress” at resolving several unspecified outstanding issues.

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“Today is an opportunity, at the political level, to break some of the remaining logjams,” Obama added. “What we are seeing is momentum building around a Trans-Pacific Partnership that can spur greater economic growth, spur greater jobs growth.”

One of the biggest logjams has been Japan's reluctance to remove protective tariffs on its so-called “sacred” agricultural products, including rice, wheat, barley, sugar, dairy and beef and pork. Obama did not mention Japan in his remarks.

Separately, in a joint statement, the leaders of all 12 TPP nations said they “welcome the significant progress” that negotiators have made in recent months. They said this progress “sets the stage to bring these landmark Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations to a close.”

“We are encouraged that ministers and negotiators have narrowed the remaining gaps on the legal text of the agreement and that they are intensively engaging to complete ambitious and balanced packages to open our markets to one another, in accordance with the instructions we gave them in Bali a year ago,” the leaders said in a statement.

“With the end coming into focus, we have instructed our ministers and negotiators to make concluding this agreement a top priority so that our businesses, workers, farmers, and consumers can start to reap the real and substantial benefits of the TPP agreement as soon as possible,” they said.

The leaders also said they were committed to a TPP structure “that can include other regional partners that are prepared to adopt to its high standards,” an apparent reference to China, which is not among the TPP nations and is pushing for a separate trade liberalization framework called the Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific.

U.S. business leaders had been hoping for signs of progress in the TPP coming out of Obama's eight-day Asia tour. Those hopes were dimmed, however, when U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said there would be “no major announcement” on the trade pact.

In addition to the U.S. and Japan, the TPP nations include Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

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