The U.S. and 11 other nations brokering a Pacific-region trade deal probably will reach an agreement this year, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker said, even as talks between the U.S. and Japan have slowed.
“I’m pretty optimistic about what can happen,” Pritzker said in an interview for Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend. “We’re down to the endgame of this negotiation.”
A key sticking point in the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks has involved differences between the U.S. and Japan over market-access rules for agricultural goods and autos.
President Barack Obama, visiting Asia this week, left Japan without an agreement on how to wrap up the Pacific free-trade deal, which would be the largest in U.S. history. Negotiators from Tokyo and Washington did reach a path forward in bilateral discussions, according to the U.S. Trade Representative’s office.
In addition to the U.S. and Japan, the nations working toward the deal are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. The accord would link a region with $28 trillion in annual economic output, about 39 percent of the world total.
Failure by the U.S. to conclude proposed trade deals, such as the Pacific pact, would allow global trade rules “to get set by our competitors” who don’t necessarily share U.S. values on issues including labor and the environment, Pritzker said.
Lawmakers including Representative Sander Levin of Michigan, the top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, and officials from Ford Motor Co. have said they want the Pacific agreement to include provisions to prevent currency manipulation.
Pritzker said she thinks the currency issue will be handled “within the boundaries of what the Treasury Department can live with.”
The Obama administration is also trying to convince lawmakers to pass so-called fast-track legislation that would prevent lawmakers from amending completed accords. Many members of Congress, particularly Democrats, have objected, saying they want more say in trade deals before ceding their authority.
“There is no appetite to provide the administration with fast-track authority to ram another bad trade deal through Congress,” Representative Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat, said in a statement today. The U.S. should focus on improving the middle class, she said.
Pritzker said it may be easier to pass the legislation, also known as trade-promotion authority, as the Pacific-region talks get closer to their conclusion.
She also said the U.S. should invest more in infrastructure and pass immigration-reform legislation.
The U.S. is an attractive place for businesses to invest because of low-cost energy, the rule of law and a skilled workforce, Pritzker said.
“I’ve talked to 1,000 business leaders since I’ve been in office in 10 months,” Pritzker said. “People are very optimistic about America.”