Business leaders confident Congress, White House can iron out differences on Pacific trade deal

A top business leader expressed confidence on Wednesday that Congress and the White House can resolve their differences over a sweeping Asia-Pacific trade deal.

Doug Oberhelman, the new chairman of the Business Roundtable and CEO of Caterpillar, said that while addressing lawmakers' concerns in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a challenging task, congressional leaders and the Obama administration will eventually reach an agreement and smooth the way for passage of the 12-nation pact.

“It’s a heavy lift and I know there is a very big push to get that done and reach some kind of compromise on those pieces,” Oberhelman told reporters. 

"There's a core group, and some in leadership, that if we can get the components right would like to see this done and certainly the administration will be behind it," he said.

He said business optimism is boosted by the fact that there is a bipartian group of lawmakers in the House and the Senate prepared to support the TPP. 

The deal is facing an uphill battle in Congress with expectations that the TPP may not even come up for a vote until after the November elections. 

The Business Roundtable is among a number of powerful business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, who are backing the TPP but are calling on the White House to consider some changes to allay concerns. 

Lawmakers have primarily expressed problems with the treatment of pharmaceuticals and tobacco in the TPP agreement. 

“We would hope beyond hope that there will be a window at some point during the year that this could come together,” Oberhelman said.

“I think we’ve got to be ready, we got to make sure we have all the arguments out there of why trade is good because there’s always those in politics and beyond to some degree that have an opinion that trade is bad.”

Oberhelman said passage of TPP is “critical” and that his company would experience job losses if Congress fails to ratify the deal because trade will march on across the Pacific Rim even if the United States remains on the sidelines.