NYT: Kerry Hails Progress Toward Trans-Pacific Trade Pact, Despite Delays


SINGAPORE — Days after negotiators failed to wrap up an Asia trade agreement, Secretary of State John Kerry expressed confidence on Tuesday that the pact would be completed, calling it vital for the economic well-being of the region.

[Reposted from The New York Times  |  Michael R. Gordon  |  August 4, 2015]

“We made progress, good progress, in our negotiations toward one of the most significant trade agreements in history, the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” Mr. Kerry said in a speech at Singapore Management University.

“No country can expect its economy to grow simply by buying and selling to its own people,” Mr. Kerry added. “It is just not going to happen. It defies the law of economics. Trade is a job creator and prosperity builder, period.”

The trade pact has been a top priority for the Obama administration, which has proclaimed a policy of focusing more on Asia as part of a “rebalancing” of American interests.

The White House had hoped that Congress’s passage in June of “fast track” negotiating powers would pave the way for concluding the accord, which would be the largest regional trade pact in history.

But the 12-nation talks have been snagged by differences over access to agricultural markets and protections for drug companies, among other issues. Trade ministers meeting in Hawaii failed to reach a final agreement on Friday, raising concerns that the discussions would be extended into the politically charged presidential election campaign in the United States.

Mr. Kerry acknowledged in his speech that the negotiations had been tough and that there were still “details to be hashed out,” though he did not discuss any of the obstacles to progress or suggest how they might be overcome.

Still, he said there were compelling reasons for negotiations to continue. In addition to generating jobs, he said, the accord would raise the region’s standards for labor practices, discourage corruption and better protect the environment.

“It will send a message to people within the T.P.P. and outside of support for good governance, transparency, accountability,” he said, using the initials for the accord.

“Every participant will have to comply with core international labor and environmental standards,” Mr. Kerry said. “Every participant will have to refrain from using underage workers, unsafe workplaces. Every participant will have to ensure that state-owned companies compete fairly with ones that are privately owned. And every participant will have to fight trade-related bribery and corruption, ensure free and open digital trade, and safeguard intellectual property.”

Mr. Kerry said that the Obama administration was still determined to move ahead — “boldly,” he said — with its policy of focusing more on Asia. But his current round-the-world trip illustrates the challenges in trying to carry out that shift.

With the United States increasingly concerned about the Islamic State, the militant group that has laid claim to much of Iraq and Syria and that has found adherents in the Sinai Peninsula and in Libya, Mr. Kerry began his trip in Egypt. As Congress reviewed the nuclear deal that the United States and five other world powers negotiated with Iran, Mr. Kerry then went to Qatar to secure support for the accord from the Arab monarchies in the Persian Gulf before arriving in Singapore on Tuesday morning.

Mr. Kerry, who in his speech also endorsed Mr. Obama’s clean power initiative and made an appeal to fight climate change, spoke shortly before leaving for regional meetings in Malaysia. He plans to visit Hanoi, Vietnam, on Friday to observe the 20th anniversary of the re-establishment of United States-Vietnamese diplomatic relations before returning to Washington.

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