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Trade ministers from a dozen nations on Wednesday signed a sweeping Pacific Rim trade agreement, kicking off the next round of intense negotiations between the White House and Congress.
The United States, along with Japan, Canada, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand, joined six other nations in signing the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), calling the agreement an historic deal that will provide far-reaching benefits to their nations.
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said at the signing ceremony that the TPP “ultimately represents a giant vote of confidence in and optimism for the future prosperity of our economy and our people.”
In a joint statement, the trade ministers who gathered in Auckland, New Zealand, said “our goal is to enhance shared prosperity, create jobs and promote sustainable economic development for all of our nations.”
“The signing of the agreement signals an important milestone and the beginning of the next phase for TPP,” they said.
“Our focus now turns to the completion of our respective domestic processes."
Most of the trading partners said they would aim to pass the deal this year, possibly putting pressure on the United States to pick up the pace.
Congressional lawmakers are calling on the White House to address their concerns about the TPP before they will bring up the agreement for a vote on Capitol Hill.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday after a meeting with President Obama that he doesn't expect the TPP will get a vote until at least after the November elections.
Meanwhile, last week, Malaysia became the first country to ratify the deal.
U.S. Trade Representative Michael FromanMichael FromanOvernight Finance: WH floats Mexican import tax | Exporters move to back GOP tax proposal | Dems rip Trump adviser's Goldman Sachs payout Froman heads to Council on Foreign Relations Overnight Finance: Carson, Warren battle at hearing | Rumored consumer bureau pick meets Trump | Trump takes credit for Amazon hirings | A big loss for Soros MORE said at the ceremony he is confident that at the end of the day, because of the benefits to the U.S. economy, members of Congress will have the necessary bipartisan support to pass the agreement.
He also was asked about how he would quell the concerns of detractors of the deal.
"My message is this is an historic agreement and we set out several years ago to negotiate together an ambitious, comprehensive and high-standard agreement and we've done," Froman said.
"This is the product of a diverse set of countries, large and small, developed, developing, Asian, Western Hemispheric countries," he said.
"It reflects our collective view of the appropriate standards for this region."
Several of the trade ministers said the widespread interest from other countries to join the deal is a testament to its strength.
President Obama used the signing to make another push for Congress to move quickly on the agreement.
The president said he would continue working with Democrats and Republicans in Congress to enact the deal as soon as possible “so our economy can immediately start benefiting from the tens of billions of dollars in new export opportunities.”
“We should get TPP done this year and give more American workers the shot at success they deserve and help more American businesses compete and win around the world,” he said.
The nations in the agreement besides the United States are: Malaysia, Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, Singapore Australia, Canada, Japan, Mexico, Peru and Vietnam.
New Zealand hosted the signing ceremony because the nation was the first to suggest the trade talks about 10 years ago.
Ahead of the signing, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin HatchHow to marry housing policy and tax reform for millions of Americans Though flawed, complex Medicaid block grants have fighting chance A guide to the committees: Senate MORE (R-Utah) said he is confident the Obama administration and Congress can work together to get the deal done as soon as possible.
“If the administration is prepared to engage with our TPP partners to address congressional concerns, I am confident the TPP agreement can be successfully approved by Congress,” Hatch said on the Senate floor.
But Hatch, who reiterated his doubts about the deal, warned that the process is lengthy — mostly driven by the trade promotion authority law — and that no one should be under any illusion that an up or down vote on the agreement is imminent.
“If history has taught us anything, it’s that this process can, and often does, take a very long time to complete,” Hatch said.
Hatch has expressed concerns about intellectual property protections for high-tech medicines called biologics and a tobacco carve-out that has irked lawmakers in states where the crop is primarily grown.
“In fact, it’s not an exaggeration — or even all that remarkable — to say that it can take years to get an agreement through Congress after it is signed,” he said.
Major business groups are lobbying in support of the TPP but the agreement faces a barrage of opposition from the left and an uphill battle in Congress.
National Corn Growers Association President Chip Bowling on Wednesday called on Congress to pass the deal this year saying that the agreement would “give America’s farmers and ranchers greater access to some of the world’s fastest-growing economies.”
Business Roundtable Chairman Doug Oberhelman, the head of Caterpillar, said “we will continue to call on Congress and the administration to quickly address the remaining industry issues to ensure the agreement provides maximum benefit, which will also enable greater likelihood of congressional approval this year.”
Although Democratic support in Congress for the deal is scant, pro-trade Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), a member of the Senate Finance Committee, said with the signing of the agreement, “our country took a critical step forward in bolstering our relationship with some of the fastest growing economies in the world.”
Opponents of the deal took their shots at the TPP saying they would work non-stop to derail the agreement.
Judit Rius Sanjuan, the U.S. access campaign manager for Doctors Without Borders, said that “the fight to stop this irresponsible trade deal from going into effect is far from over.”
"It's now up to the public to ask their governments whether they’re going to stand for the health of patients and families or the profits of multinational pharmaceutical companies," Sanjuan added.
"The TPP signing today is one step in the process, but efforts to stop the TPP from blocking people’s access to affordable medicines are far from over.”
In 30 locations around the country, as well as in Auckland and other TPP countries, activists held protests Wednesday against the TPP.
AFL-CIO Richard Trumka on Wednesday said that “the TPP agreement is toxic and the American people are not buying it.”
“Working people are determined to end the era of corporate trade deals that lower our wages and kill our jobs,” he added during a press conference on Capitol Hill.
Rep. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) said that “the American people have been left out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership from the beginning and the results show.”
“The American people deserve a better future that empowers our middle class and domestic economy; that protects people and our planet,” she said after helping to deliver 1 million signatures to Congress against the TPP.
Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod BrownWhy we must base the banking regulation debate on real data Sanders, not Trump, is the real working-class hero A guide to the committees: Senate MORE (D-Ohio) said that “when TPP has its day on the Senate floor, I will do all I can to block this agreement, which will hurt workers in my state and across the country.”