US firms urge Washington not to rush through landmark trade deal

Reuters

By Randy Fabi

NUSA DUA, Indonesia, Oct 7 (Reuters) - U.S. multinationalshave warned Washington not to compromise and weaken a landmark12-nation Asia-Pacific free trade agreement in order to completethe deal by the end of this year.

After three years of talks, President Barack Obama'sadministration is making a final push to finalise the proposedTrans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), that would establish afree-trade bloc that would stretch from Vietnam to Chile.

The ambitious agreement would encompass 800 million people,about a third of world trade and nearly 40 percent of the globaleconomy.

Obama had hoped to personally iron out the deal with otherleaders at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summitin Indonesia this week, but was forced to cancel at the lastminute because of the U.S. government shutdown.

"(Obama) set a very aggressive goal to try and get the TPPagreements done by the end of the year," U.S. Commerce SecretaryPenny Pritzker told reporters on Sunday on the sidelines of theAPEC meeting.

Major multinationals, like Wal-Mart and FedEx, have however expressed concern that the tight deadlinecould make U.S. negotiators vulnerable to compromise.

"For Wal-Mart, we would like to see a high-qualityagreement, which is that no sectors and no products areexcluded. That there are no compromises that leak into theprocess for the purpose of speed," Scott Price, the U.S.retailer's CEO in Asia, told Reuters.

"If it takes more time in order to have a high qualityagreement, that's what we should have."

U.S. government officials have indicated that the agreementmight not eliminate all tariffs between the 12 countries,consisting of the United States, Japan, Canada, Mexico,Australia, New Zealand, Peru, Chile, Vietnam, Malaysia,Singapore and Brunei.

The United States is under pressure in the talks toeliminate import restrictions on politically sensitive productslike sugar, dairy, footwear and clothing.

In exchange, its partners would adopt new rules on digitaltrade and the operations of state-owned enterprises, and bolsterprotections for workers and the environment.

Washington, which has touted the deal by saying that 5,000U.S. jobs are created for each extra $1 billion in exports,could seek to exclude some of the 11 countries to ensure anagreement was reached on time.

"The president has not only pushed us internally but alsohis counterparties in other countries to say that we will moveforward and maybe not everyone will be there at the time and youcan go in the second round," Pritzker said.

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