Obama Seeks to Break Logjam on Trans-Pacific Trade Deal

U.S. President Barack Obama sought to break the logjam holding up final negotiations on a Pacific trade pact as he convened a meeting with leaders of nations negotiating the accord.

Obama said before talks with the leaders of the 12 countries involved in the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership today in Beijing that he sees momentum building for the accord, which would be the biggest such deal ever negotiated by the U.S.

“This has the potential for being a historic achievement,” Obama said at the U.S. embassy. “It’s now up to all of us to see if we can finalize a deal that is both ambitious and comprehensive.”

The centerpiece of the U.S. rebalance to Asia, the trade deal remains incomplete one year after officials expressed hopes for its swift conclusion. The accord excludes China, and President Xi Jinping has countered by promoting an alternative called the Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific.

The competition on trade plans is just one indication of the U.S.-China jockeying at the center of this week’s meetings in Beijing, where China is hosting the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum as well as a state visit by Obama.

Yan Xuetong, dean of Tsinghua University’s institute of modern international relations, said the trade tensions eventually will be resolved. “Without cooperation between the No. 1 and No. 2 trader, I doubt anyone can make their program successful,” he said.

‘Own Project’

Some Chinese foreign policy specialists see in the U.S. stance a broader opposition to any Chinese initiative. Coupled with the U.S. failure to endorse a Chinese proposal for a new Asian infrastructure bank, they say the U.S. is pursuing what Wang Dong, an associate professor at Peking University, calls an “ABC policy” -- anybody but China.

“The U.S. only wants to stick to their own project,” Wang said.

China has promoted the FTAAP as a way to bolster commerce across a region that includes the world’s three largest economies.

“On TPP, China is the only country excluded,” said Liu Feitao, deputy director of the American studies department of the China Institute of International Studies in Beijing. “Chinese see the signal from that action.”

Top Priority

In a joint statement released by the White House afterward, the leaders pledged to make concluding the accord a top priority. While citing progress in the negotiations in recent months, there was no indication they moved closer to clearing some of the hurdles that remain.

“Continued engagement will be critical as our ministers work to resolve the remaining issues in the negotiation,” they said in the statement.

The Pacific accord would link an area with about $28 trillion in annual economic output, around 39 percent of the world total, and is a pillar of U.S. efforts to retain influence in the Asia-Pacific region. In addition to the U.S., Australia, Brunei, Japan, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam are involved in the talks.

The State Department expects an additional 1 billion middle-class Asian consumers over the next 20 years.

Intellectual Property

Companies such as Procter & Gamble Co., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Citigroup Inc. covet a potential deal for the enhanced protections it would provide for intellectual property.

While negotiations have progressed over the past year, sticking points with countries including Japan and Canada have made a final agreement elusive.

U.S. officials made clear before Obama’s departure for the eight-day Asia trip they expected no final deal this week. Still, they hoped a leaders meeting might spur faster progress.

For Obama, the trip marks his second to the region this year amid doubts in the region over the staying power of the administration’s military and economic rebalancing to Asia.

Shortly after arriving in Beijing, Obama met with Indonesian President Joko Widodo. Later today he is scheduled to meet Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott before delivering remarks at a summit of chief executive officers.

— With assistance by David Lynch, and Phil Mattingly

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