WASHINGTON - U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said he hopes to wrap up a trade deal with 11 other Pacific Rim nations soon and send it to the U.S. Congress for approval before the end of the year.
Lawmakers last week granted the White House authority to close the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other trade deals and speed them through Congress, opening the door to a phase of intense negotiations to finalize the pact.
Component of Asia policy
The TPP would cover 40 percent of the world economy and is central to President Barack Obama's effort to engage more closely with Asia and balance China's influence.
Froman said the United States was talking to TPP partners to clear up sticking points and prepare for a ministerial meeting to finalize the deal.
Talks with Japan were nearly done, although issues such as intellectual property protection, access to Canada's dairy market, Australian sugar exports to the United States and state-owned enterprises still had to be agreed.
"We're going to be having some conversations over the coming days to make sure we are on track towards closing," Froman told an event organized by Politico.
A source close to the negotiations told Reuters the ministerial meeting is set for the last week of July.
Froman said a date had not been set but he aimed to close the deal "in the near term" and have the TPP before Congress before the end of the year for approval.
"I think the likelihood is pretty high that Congress will pass it," he said.
Stumbling blocks remaining
One stumbling block has been agreeing with Japan on access for U.S. farm products and autos, but Froman said he did not see that as an "obstacle" to closing the wider deal.
There were many ways to achieve market access without cutting all tariffs to zero: "Our preferred way is tariff elimination but there are other ways to achieve that as well, tariff reduction, expansion of quotas," he said.
Australia is pressing the United States, which protects its sugar industry with a network of government supports and managed trade, to allow in more sugar, and Froman said talks with all parties were ongoing.
"Whatever we do in that area will not undermine the [U.S.] sugar program," he said.
He declined to confirm the details of a leaked draft text of the intellectual property chapter, and said the United States wanted balance between access to affordable medicines and encouraging innovation.