Free Trade Talks Facing A Rough Year

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A number of free talks are going on simultaneously this year. Some of the major trade talks include those between Canada and the European Union, the United States and 11 other countries throughout the Asia-Pacific region, the United States and the European Union, and 16 countries throughout Asia.  Any hope to revive the Doha Round of the World Trade Organization remains dim. While each government argues the economic benefits of free trade, politics present a challenge to finalizing large, multilateral trade deals in a timely manner.

This post focuses on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks between 12 countries, including the United States. Doubts that the latter will be concluded by the end of this year as expected continue to surface.

The first round of TPP talks began in March 2010 in Melbourne, Australia. The TPP negotiations were anticipated to be concluded in 2012 with nine members at the time.

In 2011, President Obama stated in Hawaii:

I’m very pleased to announce that our nine nations have reached the broad outlines of an agreement. There are still plenty of details to work out, but we are confident that we can do so. So we’ve directed our teams to finalize this agreement in the coming year. It is an ambitious goal, but we are optimistic that we can get it done.

Well, the talks are still going on, but the same enthusiasm remains. Toward the end of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman expressed optimism that the TPP trade deal would be concluded in its 20th round in December 2013.

Froman’s optimism is a far cry from the less than optimistic view of previous USTR officials in May of this year. U.S. Trade Representative Carla Hills, who served under George H. W. Bush from 1989-1993, said:

I’m optimistic it will be done….I’m not optimistic it will be done this year.

According to public reports, a number of leaders throughout Asia also express some doubt that a TPP can be concluded this year.

A number of issues have emerged pertaining to the TPP such as transparency in the talks, agriculture and automobiles. (See TPP Protests: Not Anti-Free Trade, But Pro-Fair Trade and The Domestic Side of International Trade Negotiations for more)

The current partial government shutdown in the United States presents an even greater threat to the ability to move trade talks forward. President Obama cancelled his trip to the APEC summit earlier this week and stayed in Washington, D.C. to deal with the government shutdown. The shutdown has resulted in government agencies being closed and government workers being forced to stay home without pay. Consequently, efforts to move the trade agenda forward has had to take a back seat. (See Does the Government Shutdown Affect the US Trade Agenda?)

A TPP deal will remove trade barriers between 12 countries that include Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam, and the United States.

The TPP demonstrates the need for transparency to receive the support required to move talks forward and complete an effective and beneficial trade deal.

 

Check back for the second part of this post focusing on the Canada-EU free trade talks and how it illustrates another example of trade talks facing numerous challenges.

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About Dr. Sarita D. Jackson

is the President and CEO of the Global Research Institute of International Trade, a think-tank/consulting firm that examines trade policies and their impact on domestic businesses. Prior to heading GRIIT, Dr. Jackson was a tenured associate professor of political science in North Carolina and worked as a trade policy consultant for an Arlington-based consulting firm. She has participated in trade policy projects and conducted research on free trade negotiations in Botswana, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Mexico and Panama. Dr. Jackson has also traveled to Chile and Argentina to study their political systems and economic integration policies.
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