U.S. officials not optimistic on trade deal before Obama Asia trip

By Daniel Enoch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, MARCH 9, 2014 -- U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack both say the U.S. is working hard to reach a deal on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) before President Obama's trip to Asia in April but obstacles remain to the trade agreement.

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The obstacles, Vilsack said last week in a radio interview produced by Froman's office, include “difficult and sensitive issues on a wide range of agricultural products” with Japan and Canada.

While negotiators may not reach agreement within the next few months, “the presidential visit will put a fine point, a focus on the need for all of us to work hard to try to create an opportunity for that visit to be meaningful from a trade perspective,” Vilsack said.

Froman also would not predict a deal before Obama's trip.

“The timetable of the negotiations will be dictated by the substance,” Froman said in the interview. “We want a good deal - it is a very high-standard deal, it is an ambitious deal, it's got to be comprehensive. We're working very hard to open Japan's market. We're going to be working very hard to open Canada's market, and we've got to make progress on that front before we can bring a deal home.”

Free-trade agreements are on the presidential agenda for Obama's Asian trip, which will include a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

“We stand ready to work with Japan and Canada,” Vilsack said. “But it does take two to tango, and it does take a willingness on the part of Japan and Canada to be realistic and reasonable about how open their markets need to be in order for us to have that high standard agreement that {Froman} talked about.”

The U.S. and 11 other countries are in negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would create one of the world's biggest free-trade zones. The countries currently in the talks, which included a session last month in Singapore, represent 39 percent of global gross domestic product, and account for 42 percent of current U.S. exports, Vilsack said.

In the talks, Japan is resisting demands to ease tariffs on its five so-called “sacred” products - rice, wheat, sugar, dairy, and pork and beef - while Canada is reluctant to reduce protections for its poultry and dairy sectors.

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