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USTR Publishes Notice on Trans-Pacific FTA While Obama Administration Reserves Judgment

USTR published a Federal Register notice on January 26 announcing its intention to initiate negotiations on a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement with Singapore, Chile, New Zealand, Brunei, Australia, Peru and Vietnam.  The notice also solicits public comments aimed at amplifying and clarifying U.S. negotiating objectives for the agreement by a deadline of March 11.  It is important to note that, while incoming Obama Administration officials allowed the notice to go forward for publication, they have not yet taken a position on the merits of U.S. participation in this or other pending free trade agreement negotiations.

As reported, former U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab notified Congress last September of the President’s intention to enter into these negotiations, which would build on the “P-4” free trade agreement originally negotiated by New Zealand, Brunei, Singapore and Chile.  During this first tranche of TPP expansion, the newcomers will include Australia, Peru and Vietnam as well as the United States. 
Initially, the TPP would be of limited commercial significance since the United States already has FTAs with some of the larger participants (Australia, Singapore, Chile and Peru) and the other countries’ economies are relatively small.  However, the Bush Administration decided to pursue the TPP because it is a very high-standard agreement (i.e., the existing agreement among the four original participants has few deviations from full trade liberalization principles) and because of the strong possibility that other larger countries in the Pacific region eventually will be interested in joining as well. 
In that connection, Malaysia and possibly Thailand have been mentioned as logical candidates for a second tranche of expansion negotiations, which conceivably could begin as soon as two years from now.  This would be of particular interest to many SGMA members given their position as major suppliers of athletic footwear and apparel to the United States.

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