THE Obama Administration said it hopes to finish negotiations on the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement this year and make "significant progress" on the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (T-TIP) as well, according to "The President's Trade Policy Agenda" report from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.
"In pursuit of job-supporting opportunities, the Administration will work to conclude negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership in 2014, producing a high-standard, comprehensive, 21st-century agreement that provides new export opportunities for U.S. industry and agriculture, opens markets for U.S. services and investment, protects worker rights and enhances environmental protection," the annual report says.
USTR Michael Froman, who recently returned from Pacific Rim trade talks in Singapore, said the TPP talks, which formally began four years ago, are much further along, but he would not commit to any deadline by which the negotiations with Japan, Vietnam and nine other countries could be concluded.
Froman did say the talks have "momentum" after the Singapore sessions, but Japan remains reluctant to open its agriculture markets, and that is a major stumbling block.
On a joint press call with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Froman noted that good progress has been made on the agricultural market access side, particularly with Vietnam and Malaysia, which have tariffs of 20%, 40% and 50% on agricultural products.
"To be able to chart out a course where those tariffs will be eliminated creates real opportunities for farmers and ranchers and growers," they said.
Vilsack said the countries currently negotiating the TPP trade agreement represent 39% of global gross domestic product and 42% of current U.S. exports.
"We have concern at (the U.S. Department of Agriculture) that if we can't get this finished, other countries within TPP will negotiate bilateral agreements or other multilateral agreements, which will put American agriculture at a disadvantage," Vilsack said.
Froman added that USTR continues to work hard to open markets in Japan and Canada, noting, "We've got to make progress on that front before we can bring a deal home."
A coalition of agricultural groups hosted a media call March 13 and once again urged USTR to "hold the line" by not letting Japan exclude agricultural products from tariff reductions.
Vilsack said USDA stands ready to work with Japan and Canada to "work through these difficult and sensitive issues on a wide range of agricultural products."
However, Vilsack added, "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."
President Barack Obama has planned a trip to Asia this spring, and many hope it will help advance the trade negotiations. Vilsack said he thinks the President's 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."
"The time table of the negotiations will be dictated by the substance," Froman added. "We want a good deal. It is a very high-standard deal; it is an ambitious deal. It's got to be comprehensive."
The USTR annual report also notes that the Obama Administration expects "to make significant progress in the T-TIP negotiations" with the 28 European Union nations this year. "After three negotiating rounds in the latter half of 2013, the Administration plans to maintain a similar pace for the talks in 2014. Negotiators will seek ambitious market openings in goods, services and investments."
Vilsack said as with the focus on market access in TPP talks, there are similar issues and challenges with the T-TIP negotiations as well.