Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

c.2013 New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON — The United States and 11 other Pacific Rim nations said they would not complete a sweeping deal to reduce trade barriers by their own end-of-year deadline.

But participants in the latest talks, held in Singapore, expressed optimism about the prospects for the trade deal, one of the largest ever negotiated. The 12 ministers working on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) said they had found potential “landing zones” for many of the remaining disagreements, which involve intellectual property and agricultural products, among other issues.

A strong deal “is critical for creating jobs and promoting growth, providing opportunity for our citizens and contributing to regional integration and the strengthening of the multilateral trading system,” the ministers said Tuesday in a statement. “We have decided to continue our intensive work.”

Speaking with reporters after the Singapore talks, Michael B. Froman, the U.S. trade representative, said that the meeting had ended with “great momentum.”

He added, “We’re now focused on building that momentum with the direction given by the ministers on the landing zones.”

No formal deadline has been set for the Pacific Rim trade deal. Ministers involved in negotiations said they intended to continue talks into next year.

As the negotiators try to complete a deal, its supporters and opponents in Washington are waging intense lobbying campaigns. Much of the opposition comes from consumer, environmental and labor groups who argue that the deal might end up gutting American regulations, giving corporations too much power and moving jobs offshore.

“We’re tired of losing jobs,” said Leo W. Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers union, in a call with reporters. “We’re tired of trade agreements that end up with net job loss. Our members our fed up with this. The public is fed up with this.”

Gerard said, “The politicians keep telling us the same song and dance that turns out not to be the truth. We’ve lost 5 million manufacturing jobs. The public gets it, and the politicians don’t.”

Some members of Congress have also expressed skepticism about such an agreement. The failure to complete the deal in Singapore “makes clear the administration is far from reaching an agreement with other countries,” Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro, D-Conn., told reporters. “It is far from reaching a deal that the Congress can support.”

But many businesses and business lobbying groups have pushed hard for an agreement, arguing it would open markets and create American jobs. “America’s business leaders commend this significant progress and urge the expeditious conclusion of an ambitious and comprehensive TPP agreement, which will help create economic opportunities with the dynamic Asia-Pacific region and support U.S. growth and jobs,” said John Engler, president of the Business Roundtable.

In public and in private conversations, officials involved in the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks have maintained optimism that a deal might come to fruition and emphasized their intention to see it through. But a document published this week by WikiLeaks indicates that there might be more rifts behind the scenes than they have let on, showing many areas of disagreement as of November.

One passage details complaints about an American provision on investor-state dispute settlements, for instance. “The United States, as in previous rounds, has shown no flexibility on its proposal, being one of the most significant barriers to closing the chapter, since under the concept of Investment Agreement nearly all significant contracts that can be made between a state and a foreign investor are included,” the document said.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. trade representative, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that the documents contained outdated and inaccurate information.

“I haven’t seen the leaks,” Froman said in an interview with CNBC. “All I can say is we’ve been working very collegially.”

Nevertheless, the documents gave new fuel to the trade deal’s opponents. “The negotiators’ political imperative to make a deal — any deal — resulted in a raft of dangerous decisions that would severely threaten consumers’ access to affordable medicines, undermine Internet freedom and empower corporations to attack our domestic laws,” said Lori Wallach, the director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.

The trade deal has equally ardent supporters in the White House and elsewhere in Washington, many of whom said they did not see the delay in Singapore as a sign of failure.


“The significant progress made in Singapore by TPP ministers is welcome news for our nation’s farmers, ranchers, workers and families who stand to gain from the growth and opportunity a successful Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement will bring to America,” said Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont. “Above all, our negotiators have shown they are committed to an ambitious and comprehensive outcome. I look forward to their delivering on that commitment.”

The trade pact faces one challenge from Congress before it is even completed. Legislators are debating whether to give the Obama administration fast-track authority, which many trade watchers consider a prerequisite for the deal’s eventual passage. Such authority would prevent the deal from being subject to a filibuster or amendment in Congress.

But congressional Republicans and Democrats have indicated that they might oppose such authority, and aides said it would not come up for a vote this year.

The announcement about the Singapore talks was made only days after the member countries of the World Trade Organization made their first multilateral agreement in the group’s two-decade history.

The agreement, in essence, facilitates trade by reducing red tape. Business groups have widely applauded it.

The Pacific talks would also reduce barriers to trade. The deal would cover a huge swath of the globe, nearly a billion people from New Zealand north through Asia, through Canada and the United States and down through Mexico to Chile. Other countries involved include Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and Peru.

The United States is also at work with a sweeping trade deal with the European Union.