WASHINGTON: Secretary of State John Kerry Thursday hailed as “good news” initial backing from US lawmakers for a bill to give President Barack Obama “fast-track” authority to negotiate a huge Pacific trade deal.
If the draft legislation, approved by a Senate panel late Wednesday, is passed by the full Congress it would help move “forward the most significant trade negotiations in our history,” Kerry told a US think tank.
The trade promotion authority will give Obama “the flexibility that he has to have to negotiate credibly and effectively on our nation’s behalf,” the top US diplomat said.
The ambitious 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership would encompass 40 percent of the global economy largely through the participation of the United States and Japan, the world’s first and third largest economies.
It does not include China though — the second largest economy — which has embarked on its own initiative courting dozens of nations to a new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), so far snubbed by the US.
The TPP deal is likely to come to the fore next week during the key visit to the United States of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, with US officials saying agreement on the US-Japanese commitments is within “grabbing distance.”
Tokyo and Washington have been wrestling over key points including Japanese tariffs on agricultural imports and US access to Japan’s auto market.
“We cannot expect economies to grow and create new jobs if all we do is buy and sell to ourselves. (It) ain’t gonna work,” Kerry said, adding that 95 percent of the world’s consumers lived outside the US.
“Trade is a job creator, period. And the record of the past five years, the past 20 years, the past 100 years or more bears that out,” he added, saying US exports support about 11.7 million American jobs.
The ambitious TPP will include Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.
If the fast-track measure passes the full Senate and House of Representatives, it creates a simplified mechanism for Congress to approve or reject any agreement negotiated by Obama, while preventing lawmakers from making changes.
But the measure may have a tough road in the House. And US labor unions are also rallying against the fast-track, saying it could harm workers rights in the United States.