Top Senate Democrat expresses optimism for Asia-Pacific trade deal

A top Senate Democrat has expressed optimism about the completion of a massive Asia-Pacific trade deal.

Sen. Ben Cardin (Md.) said that the 12 nations participating in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) talks, which has been stuck in negotiations for more than five years, can get the job done.

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"When we get an agreement that we can be proud of that really elevates the status not only with regards to removing traditional trade barriers but also in dealing with good governance and anti-corruption initiatives like that, I think that type of agreement will be winnable," he said Sunday on CNBC

Cardin, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Finance committees, also defended President Obama's pivot to Asia for economic and strategic issues saying the move goes beyond geopolitics.

"It's about security. Security involves military, security involves economic, security involves good governance," he said.

As the trade talks continue, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman has said that the overarching goal is to reach an agreement that can gain approval in Congress on its own merits with or without trade promotion authority (TPA).

He has said that if the trade agreement isn’t good, TPA won’t save it.

Trade promotion authority lets any agreement go through Congress on an up-or-down vote and provides lawmakers with a way to detail their negotiating objectives.

But fast-track authority could help the negotiations, which have gained momentum since President Obama met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo in April, because it would assure the 11 other TPP nations that Congress won’t make changes to any deal they ink.

To that end, Froman and his USTR staff has held more than 1,300 TPP meetings on Capitol Hill in recent months to keep lawmakers abreast of the talks.

Meanwhile, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) is pursuing a smart-track policy that would provide an updated framework and "include procedures to get high-standard agreements through Congress and procedures that enable Congress to right the ship if trade negotiators get off course."

Wyden is taking a deliberate approach to changing the TPA bill that was introduced in January by outgoing Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, making the chances of completing legislation unlikely before November's midterm elections.

Even amid the uncertainty around TPA, talks are ongoing between the 12 countries, which are trying to making progress on rules and market access aspects of the TPP deal. 

In fact, U.S. and Japanese agricultural representatives held talks in Washington late last week to discuss the elimination of tariffs and better market access for U.S. products there.