By David Brunnstrom
SEATTLE (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday made an impassioned plea to Congress to pass fast-track legislation needed for a 12-nation Pacific trade agreement, saying that failure to do so would benefit U.S. rivals.
Prospects for sealing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) cleared a crucial test in the U.S. Senate last Thursday, when the chamber resoundingly agreed to consider the legislation, which would grant President Barack Obama the Trade Promotion Authority needed to speed an agreement through Congress.
The TPP is the economic pillar of Obama's strategic pivot to the Asia-Pacific in the face of an increasingly powerful and assertive China. Kerry said it was vital to maintaining U.S. influence and leadership in the Asia Pacific.
"When you add it all up, the economic case for Trade Promotion Authority and TPP … is overwhelming," Kerry said in a speech in Seattle after a visit to China at the weekend.
"Completing the TPP would send a message throughout the region, as well as the world, that America is and will continue to be a leading force for prosperity and security in the Asia Pacific," he said.
"The only people ... who would benefit from a decision by the United States not to participate in the TPP would be international competitors, and believe me they would be delighted," Kerry said.
"We ... have to accept that changes to the global economic system will happen with us or without us," Kerry said, saying it was critical that the United States help write the rules.
The United States needed to expand its markets to keep growing, he said, adding: "We can't do that by sitting on the sidelines."
Last week, Democrats initially defied Obama by blocking debate on a bill to "fast-track" trade deals such as TPP before voting 65 to 33 to move ahead with consideration of the measure.
This suggested senators are unlikely to reject the bill, although heated debate is still expected in the Senate over amendments and later in the House of Representatives. Many Democrats staunchly oppose the TPP on concerns that trade liberalization will cost U.S. jobs.
Under fast-track, the U.S. Congress can approve or reject trade agreements such as the TPP deal, but it cannot amend the contents of the pact.
(Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by David Storey and Steve Orlofsky)