News Column

Free-trade Backers Eye Trans-Pacific

Oct 14, 2011

Tim Devaney

Now that Congress approved the long-delayed free-trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama on Wednesday night, trade experts want lawmakers to harness the momentum and turn their attention to other potential deals in what is seen as a way to boost the economy and create jobs.

There's talk of completing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would open up Asian markets, as well as getting Russia to join the World Trade Organization. The U.S. also could reach out to the European Union and Brazil.

"I think the important thing is that the United States has to keep up the momentum," said Ed Gerwin, senior fellow for trade and global economic policy at Third Way. "Our trading partners are racing around the world doing new trade deals."

"People that talk about this are concerned that everyone will take a deep breath after these deals and let momentum dissipate," he added. "They'll say, 'Oh, this was tough. We'll take a break,' when what we really need to do is continue the momentum."

The Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, is the initiative on most trade experts' minds. Negotiations will resume next month in Hawaii, and some expect negotiators to announce a tentative framework for the agreement that could be signed in late 2012.

The pact would open up many Asian markets to the U.S. Right now, the nations involved make up only 6 percent of U.S. trade, according to a Brookings Institution report released last month, but they represent about 26 percent of the world's GDP.

Brunei, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore signed the original agreement in 2005. Since then, five more countries, including the U.S., Australia, Malaysia, Peru and Vietnam have been trying to join. There's also talk that Japan might be interested in joining the discussions in Hawaii, but they have not formally made a decision.

"The next big one is likely to be TPP," said Bill Reinsch, president of the National Foreign Trade Council. "In the long run, TPP could end up being more important, because it has the promise to end up being an agreement that covers most of Asia, and that would be huge."

Many U.S. trade officials also are pushing for Russia to join the WTO, but so far that has proven tricky. The nation of Georgia, already a WTO member, is fighting to keep neighboring Russia out.

"Suffice to say, the deal with Russia is the next big trade fight I think the administration will focus on," said Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Americas Society-Council of the Americas.

Other deals also could spring forward.

The European Union is negotiating free-trade deals with Canada and Mexico. Mr. Gerwin said it would make sense to expand those discussions to the U.S., and consider a sort of NAFTA-EU merger.

"We're kind of like the filling of the Oreo cookie," he said. "We're really the part that everybody would like to have."

Signing a free-trade agreement with Brazil would be a big win for the U.S., said Mr. Farnsworth, but it might be a long shot.

"Brazil is the obvious target market," he said. "But it takes two to tango. It's not clear Brazil wants a free-trade agreement with the United States. So that could be a problem."

On Thursday, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney offered his own plan to open world markets and create jobs. He said the U.S. has to keep pushing for more FTAs and not be complacent with these three.

"Ninety-five percent of the worlds consumers are beyond our borders," he said in a statement. "While we sit on the sidelines, the EU is making deals. China is making deals. And American competitiveness suffers."



Source: (c)2011 The Washington Times (Washington, DC)