Asian governments welcomed the U.S. Senate’s passage of legislation granting President Barack Obama fast-track trade-negotiating authority, paving the way for the completion of a 12-nation Pacific pact.
Australian Trade Minister Andrew Robb said the vote would allow ministers to meet “in the near future” to reach an agreement on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Akira Amari, his Japanese equivalent, said he hoped the nations would get a deal by the end of next month.
Obama’s signature on the bill would end a six-month legislative tussle in the U.S., and bring negotiations on the TPP closer to completion after a series of deadlines were missed since the U.S. announced its participation in 2009.
“This is obviously a positive development,” Robb said in a e-mailed reply to questions Thursday. “The TPP brings transformational promise with more seamless trade and investment across 12 countries.”
The vote bolsters efforts by Japan and the U.S. -- the top economies among TPP members -- to accelerate talks on the pact that covers about 40 percent of global commerce. It’s a boost to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who’s seeking to expand trade to breath life into the world’s third-largest economy, and to Obama, who wants to counter China as part of the U.S.’ rebalance toward Asia.
“It opens up the idea that America, not China, is the principal rule-setter in the region,” Tom Switzer, a research associate at the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, said on Bloomberg Television. “This is a big victory for the president. But it’s also a big victory for U.S. business and engagement in the region.”
U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said before a trip to Asia in April that passing the TPP was as important to him as getting another aircraft carrier.
The U.S. legislation would let Obama submit agreements to Congress for an expedited, up-or-down vote without amendments. His administration hopes to complete an agreement this year on the TPP with the other 11 countries in the talks: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.
Abe said the Senate approval of the fast-track bill was a “great step forward,” Kyodo news reported, citing a briefing with reporters in Tokyo. Japanese Agriculture Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said in April that the TPP could boost demand for Japan’s food exports among the 800 million people in the member nations, or 10 percent of global consumers.
While South Korea isn’t yet part of the negotiations, three out of five companies there support joining the TPP, according to a Yonhap News survey released Thursday.