U.S. Commerce Secretary Predicts Pacific-Trade Pact

U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker said she thinks the U.S. and 11 other nations brokering a Pacific-region trade deal will reach an agreement they can send to Congress this year.

“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.”

Negotiators are still working to conclude the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade deal, which would be the largest such accord in U.S. history. It would link a region with $28 trillion in annual economic output, about 39 percent of the world total.

The U.S. and Japan remain at odds over market-access rules for goods including agriculture and autos, even after President Barack Obama’s visit to Asia this week, where he met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. A statement from U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman’s office said the two nations have reached “a path forward” in the talks and will continue negotiations.

“They’ve had breakthroughs,” Pritzker said, and “they’ve identified pathways to resolution on a number of issues.”

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.

Top Officials

The Obama administration is marshaling some of its top officials to make the case for its trade agenda, even as differences remain among the TPP partners.

Pritzker, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz attempted to rally support for the Pacific agreement -- and U.S. exports in general -- during a panel discussion at the U.S. Export-Import Bank’s annual conference in Washington yesterday.

Vilsack, who called the TPP “vital,” said the U.S. risks losing out on setting the trade rules as other nations move ahead with their own bilateral and regional accords.

“We’ve got to move forward here very quickly because the rest of the world’s not waiting,” he 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.

Currency Issue

Pritzker said on Political Capital that 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.”

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