BY: KEITH BRADSHER | 06/24/2015 | Source: The New York Times
HONG KONG — American allies in Asia on Wednesday welcomed a United States Senate vote that appeared to clear the way for a final round of negotiations over a sweeping trans-Pacific trade pact and may have made it easier for governments to make politically risky concessions.
Japan’s minister responsible for trade negotiations, Akira Amari, said a congressional victory for President Obama could open the way for a deal as soon as next month.
“It’s possible we could have a ministerial-level meeting in July and conclude a broad agreement,” he told reporters. Any agreement would then require putting legislation in each country into effect, followed by approval there, which could take months.
China, which is not among the 12 nations negotiating the deal and had proposed a competing agreement, refrained from crFor Mr. Obama, the deal, which appeared headed toward passage on Wednesday, represents an important element of the so-called pivot to Asia to help maintain United States influence as countries grow increasingly dependent on trade with China. For American allies, it offers the political cover to commit to trade concessions, removing the risk that Congress might reject the negotiated deal.
China was initially wary of the trade measure, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, seeing it several years ago as potentially giving an advantage to American allies’ business over Chinese companies in United States markets. But those objections have faded as China has begun energetically pursuing its own regional trade agreements with East Asian neighbors.
“Even if T.P.P. is done, I don’t think it will pose any threat to China — we follow our own efforts,” said He Weiwen, a former Chinese commerce ministry official who is now a director of the influential China-United States-European Union Study Center at the China Association of International Trade in Beijing.
The Senate voted on Tuesday to end debate on legislation that would give Mr. Obama and his successor the authority for the next six years to negotiate trade agreements and submit them to Congress with no amendments or filibusters allowed.
Ending debate required 60 votes, which the Senate’s Republican leadership barely mustered with limited support from Democrats. Passage of the actual legislation requires only 51 votes and would send the bill to the president, as the House of Representatives has already approved it.
Like previous presidents, who have had similar trade negotiating authority, Mr. Obama contended that the authorization was necessary so other countries would make all available concessions in talks with American trade negotiators, instead of reserving some in case Congress rewrote a deal.
But American labor unions, environmental activists and other critics bitterly opposed passage of the negotiating authority, contending that it undermined the ability of Congress to stop administration negotiators from working with large corporations to craft deals that might not be advantageous to workers or the environment.
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