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Will the Government Shutdown Threaten TPP Negotiations?

President Obama’s decision to cancel his scheduled trip to Asia has stirred concerns that his absence will have an negative impact on still fragile Trans-Atlantic Partnership (TPP) negotiations.

In order to focus on resolving the congressional stalemate over the budget, and end the partial shutdown of the federal government,  Mr. Obama has canceled his plans to meet member nations of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in Indonesia and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Brunei. He has also cancelled plans to separately visit Malaysia and the Philippines.

At the APEC meeting, President Obama would have had a rare opportunity to meet with representatives of each of the other eleven nations currently involved in the late stages of TPP negotiations. Allen Bollard, APEC Secretariat, has said it is likely Mr. Obama’s absence from the summit scuttles any hopes that the any final agreement will be concluded this year. While Secretary of State John Kerry will attend the meeting as a surrogate for Mr. Obama, insiders have expressed misgivings about his ability to move the process forward.

Lance Beath, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic Studies, said, “So far as commitments are concerned, I don’t think any government sitting down around the table in Bali can actually make a commitment on behalf of their legislatures.”

Some believe that progress will continue unabated. Koji Tsuruoka, chief Japanese negotiator, said, “I think we are making progress as scheduled.”

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The upcoming round of talks will cover five of the twenty-one topics of discussion, including some of the most contentious like intellectual property protections and the treatment of state-owned enterprises.

On the other side of the coin, some of the TPP’s detractors believe the negotiations are proceeding too hastily, glossing over significant difficulties and failing to adequately acknowledge the historic significance of the deal. U.S. businesses have taken to loudly voicing their concerns that the trade agreement is throttling towards its conclusion too hastily to guarantee its protection of their interests.

Tom Donahue, head of the US Chamber of Commerce, said, “We’ve worked [to back the TPP] harder than anybody. But we’re at the same time saying this is going to be a great deal when it gets done. Let’s just not rush it. Speed is important but not without content. We’re willing to slow it down a month, or two or three to get the content right. “

Donahue emphasized the historic importance and sweeping impact of the TPP. “A massive percentage of the world’s [future] explosion in growth and trade is going to happen in the Pacific Rim. We’re concerned that in the excitement to get that deal people may compromise a bit too much.”

Debate has been particularly tense especially now that, following the nineteenth round of negotiations, there is clear progress and a discernible end on the horizon. US Trade Representative Michael Froman recently reported: “There is a real sense of momentum. I think people really have a sense this is going to get done and it’s going to get done in this time frame that we have laid out to try get it done over the course of this year…It is an incredibly complex negotiation.”

The TPP negotiations include the U.S., Vietnam, Singapore, Australia, Peru, Brunei, New Zealand, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, Canada and Japan.