What to Expect on Trade in Obama's Second Term

Published November 07, 2012

| Reuters

President Barack Obama is expected to pursue an active trade agenda during his second term, centered on tough final negotiations of a new free trade pact in the Asia-Pacific region and continued challenges posed by China.

Here is a glimpse of what's ahead:

TRANS-PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP AGREEMENT

Talks on the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership pact date back to the administration of Republican George W. Bush, but the Obama administration relaunched negotiations in March 2010 and has overseen their expansion to 11 countries: the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Chile, Peru, Brunei, Canada and Mexico.

A final deal could come in 2013, with negotiators just now beginning to grapple with the most politically sensitive issues. For the United States, the pact could require opening up protected sectors like dairy, sugar and textiles in exchange for new U.S. export opportunities.

Other countries such as Japan and South Korea could join the talks.

U.S.-EU TRADE AGREEMENT

The United States and the 27-nation European Union are expected to announce a decision by the end of this year to negotiate a comprehensive trade agreement.

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, who is a member of the president's Cabinet, and EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht have led an effort over the past year to explore how to expand the already huge U.S.-EU bilateral trade and investment relationship to create new jobs and economic growth.

They are expected to release recommendations in December. Negotiations on the landmark agreement would likely start in early 2013 and take one to two years to complete.

CHINA

Trade with China is expected to remain contentious during Obama's second term, with U.S. manufacturers irritating Beijing by filing additional petitions for anti-dumping and countervailing duties on Chinese products.

The Obama administration is likely to file more cases against China at the World Trade Organization, and will likely face continued pressure from U.S. companies to confront growing competition from China's state-owned and state-supported enterprises.

Early this year, Obama created a trade enforcement unit to bring together resources from across the executive branch to make sure China and other countries follow the rules.

The Obama administration has filed eight WTO cases against China since January 2009, compared with seven by Bush in the previous five years.

Obama is likely to continue to put pressure on China to allow its currency to rise more rapidly in value, but stop short of taking any provocative move like declaring China a currency manipulator or authorizing the use of countervailing duties against undervalued currencies.

TRADE PROMOTION AUTHORITY

Trade Promotion Authority, also known as "fast-track" trade legislation, allows the White House to negotiate trade agreements it can submit to Congress for straight up-or-down votes within 90 days and with no amendments.

The Bush administration used fast-track authority to negotiate trade deals with 16 countries in Latin America, the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific region before it expired in June 2007.

Obama has not sought to renew the legislation, which is generally considered essential to encouraging other countries to make their best offers in trade talks with the United States.

For four years, administration officials have said they would seek the authority "at the appropriate time." While the business community would like Obama to make an early push to renew the legislation, union groups oppose it and the White House has yet to signal when it might move forward.

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