U.S. delays sensitive topics in Trans-Pacific talks

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 14, 2011 7:23 PM
U.S. delays sensitive topics in Trans-Pacific talks

By Doug Palmer

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The United States has yet to outline ideas for protecting workers' rights or reining in state-owned enterprises in a proposed Transpacific trade pact, despite a mid-November deadline to reach "broad outlines" of a deal, a senior U.S. trade negotiator said on Wednesday.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said President Barack Obama's administration had also not made proposals in the Transpacific Partnership talks for other sensitive topics, such as footwear and dairy, whose U.S. producers are concerned about a crush of imports.

"For all of these sensitive products, we are in close consultations with the stakeholders who have interest in those sectors and we will be negotiating those issues recognizing the sensitivity of those products to the U.S.," she said.

U.S. textile, lamb, beef and sugar producers are also worried what the agreement to phase out tariffs and other trade barriers could mean for their livelihoods.

Negotiators from the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Chile and Peru have been in Chicago since last week for the eighth round of talks on the TPP. Another round is set next month for Peru.

Earlier this year, top trade officials from the TPP countries agreed to strive for the "broad outlines" of a deal by the time Obama hosts the annual summit meeting of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Honolulu November 12-13.

Together, the eight other countries of the TPP would be about the fifth largest U.S. trading partner.

WORRIES ABOUT JOBS

The White House expects the deal would help create jobs by boosting U.S. exports and making U.S. companies more competitive, but skeptics worry it would move jobs overseas.

The Chicago talks wrap up on Thursday and have taken place against the background of delicate maneuvering in Washington aimed at winning approval of three long-delayed trade deals with South Korea, Panama and Colombia before the APEC meeting.

Each of those pacts includes labor provisions based on a landmark May 10, 2007, deal reached by former President George W. Bush's administration with Democrats in Congress.

That agreement requires countries to adopt in law and maintain in practice five basic labor principles -- freedom of association, right to collective bargaining, a ban on forced or compulsory labor, the effective abolition of child labor and a ban on discrimination in employment or occupation.

The agreement also allows for the use of trade sanctions to enforce the labor provisions, something that could be a particular concern for Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.

Democrats have urged Obama to use the May 10 accord as a template for the TPP talks. But asked if the labor provisions would be stronger or weaker than the May 10 agreement, the senior U.S. trade negotiator declined comment.

The Obama administration is also still discussing whether to present a labor proposal at the next round of talks in Peru, which would be the last time negotiators meet before the mid-November APEC meeting.

But the United States will propose how to "level the playing field" between private companies and state-owned enterprises before the Peru meeting, the negotiator said.

U.S. business groups are increasingly concerned about competition from foreign state-owned firms.

They want TPP rules to ensure those entities do not benefit from government subsidies and other handouts that private companies do not receive.

A strong TPP pact also would also put pressure on China's state-owned companies, especially if Beijing one day joins the pact, which U.S. officials say is a possibility.

(Reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by Peter Cooney)