Japan Sees 12-Nation Pacific Trade Deal Possible Next Month

Japan sees agreement on a landmark Pacific trade pact as “possible” next month, after the U.S. Senate paved the way for a final vote Wednesday on a bill to give President Barack Obama enhanced authority to complete free-trade deals.

Japanese Economy Minister Akira Amari said the 12 nations involved in talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership may reach a broad agreement at a ministerial meeting in July. Speaking to reporters in Tokyo on Wednesday, Amari said the vote Tuesday to advance fast-track or trade promotion authority legislation was a “big step forward.”

The 60-37 vote came after a series of setbacks including a rebellion two weeks ago by House Democrats. Because the House has voted for the bill, H.R. 2146, it would go directly to the president for his signature upon Senate passage.

Wednesday’s vote is a boost to efforts by Japan and the U.S., the top economies among TPP members, to expedite talks on the agreement covering about 40 percent of the world’s commerce. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is seeking to expand trade to breath life into the world’s third-largest economy after more than a decade of deflationary stagnation.

“Now it’s time for the next step,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said on the floor before the vote. “Today is a very big vote; it’s an important moment for the country.”

The legislation would let Obama submit agreements to Congress for an expedited, up-or-down vote without amendments. His administration hopes to complete an agreement this year on the TPP with the other 11 countries in the talks -- Japan, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

Japanese Agriculture Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said in April that the TPP could boost demand for Japan’s food exports among the 800 million people in the member nations, or 10 percent of global consumers.

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