Official on U.S. Trade: TPP A Priority, FTAs Unlikely

Carlos Montoulieu, of the U.S. Department of Commerce, confirmed in an interview with NACM that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was the overwhelming priority for U.S. officials regarding trade and that there’s “quite a bit of momentum” therein. That also means potential for new, bilateral Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) is scant.

Montoulieu also confirmed that a rumored Trans-Atlantic Agreement between the United States and the European Union would likely get a boost after recommendations—expected before year’s end—are officially released by the High Level Working Group reporting to President Barack Obama. It’s all part of the administration’s continued goal of doubling exports by the end of a five-year period that ends in December 2014, one that was on track after two years but suffered setbacks during a highly partisan election year in 2012.

The purpose of the TPP is to break down trade barriers, especially in the eastern portion of the Asia-Pacific region, where manufacturing prowess and raw materials holdings are becoming more evident. It was estimated at FCIB's Global Conference this week in Philadelphia that nearly half of the $22 trillion in global economic growth between now and 2020 will be in the Asia-Pac region.

With the focus square on multi-lateral deals, the prospects for new, bilateral deals continue to fade. In fact, acting deputy assistant secretary for services industries for Commerce’s International Trade Administration said he was “not aware of any that are high on the list of priorities.”

“Our focus is on the TPP—there has been a lot of momentum there,” Montoulieu told NACM. “It’s actually sometimes easier to do a multi-lateral deal because of the mass behind it. Two nations have to be very dedicated.”

Montoulieu sidestepped questions as to whether bilateral FTA’s were essentially taken off the board because of the difficult and lengthy battle to get the last three—Colombia, Panama and South Korea—through to enactment, as has been widely rumored. The assertion is that a hangover effect is in play.

- Brian Shappell, CBA, NACM staff writer

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