CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Congress has only a few weeks left to pass key trade legislation that would clear the way for clinching an Asia-Pacific trade accord, Australia's trade minister said on Wednesday.
The U.S. House of Representatives last week rejected legislation crucial to U.S. involvement in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which intends to create a region-wide free trade area, including Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.
Trade Minister Andrew Robb would not speculate on how continuing negotiations in the House of Representatives might end.
"We are literally one week of negotiation away from completing this extraordinary deal across 12 countries and 40 percent of the world's GDP," Robb told Australian Broadcasting Corp.
"You can see the political heat's rising by the day over there because of the presidential election next year. So I don't think anyone can call it. But if it's not dealt with in the next two or three weeks, I think we've got a real problem with the future of the TPP," he said.
Meanwhile, Australia has stepped up its strategy of locking its major trading partners into a series of country-to-country deals.
Australia, which has a free trade deal with the United States, on Wednesday inked a similar deal with its biggest trading partner, China, after a decade of negotiations.
Robb and Chinese Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng signed the final pact in the national capital of Canberra seven months after a preliminary agreement was struck.
Australian free trade deals with South Korea and Japan took effect in December and January respectively. Australia and India hope to reach an agreement this year.
Legislation to enhance President Barack Obama's authority to negotiate such trade deals was dealt a setback Friday, mainly by members of his own party. Obama and his legislative allies were scrambling for ways to revive that effort, although Democrats and Republicans alike said all options face serious hurdles.