WASHINGTON >> Top officials from 12 Pacific nations negotiating a free-trade pact plan to convene in Hawaii at the end of this month for a final push, according to two people briefed on the plans, an indication they may be nearing a deal.
The U.S. Congress last month expanded negotiating authority for President Barack Obama, setting up a potentially deal-clinching meeting of trade officials. The negotiators are tentatively planning to meet on the island of Maui, at the Westin Resort & Spa, according to one person briefed on the plans.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership would wrap together countries from the U.S. to Japan to Malaysia, representing about 40 percent of the world’s economic output.
Gary Hufbauer, a senior fellow at the Institute of International Economics, said the planned high-level negotiating session suggests officials from most or all the countries believe an agreement is within reach now that Congress approved the negotiating authority Obama sought.
Even so, trade negotiations often involve delays and the trade ministers may need to involve their heads of state to close the final deal later this year, Hufbauer said.
“I think a deal is close but end July seems optimistic,” Hufbauer said. “The end of August seems more likely.”
Trevor Kincaid, a spokesman for Michael Froman, the U.S. Trade Representative, declined to comment.
The agreement, now a confidential draft, includes 29 chapters ranging from trade in traditional goods to rules on the free flow of data – aimed at preventing trade barriers to Internet-based commerce – and rules on intellectual property.
Some of the thorniest issues remain traditional ones. The U.S. is pushing Japan to open up its long-protected agricultural market for beef, pork, dairy and rice products. Japan, in turn, is seeking the end of U.S. tariffs on cars and trucks for its auto industry.
Acting Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Wendy Cutler will travel to Japan this week to work on the U.S-Japan part of the overall agreement, according to one of the people briefed on the talks. It would not take effect unless the entire Pacific deal is definitively concluded.