WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The chief U.S. agricultural negotiator says she is just a few phone calls and meetings away from wrapping up loose ends with her counterparts for a massive Pacific trade deal.
That assumes U.S. lawmakers approve legislation, now in its seventh week of congressional wrangling, to grant the White House authority to negotiate trade deals and fast-track their passage through Congress, known as trade promotion authority (TPA).
Darci Vetter, in charge of agricultural trade negotiations at the U.S. Trade Representative’s office, said countries are poised to finish the Trans-Pacific Partnership, already more than five years in the making.
“We really want to see the TPA pass today because it’s the key to finishing, to closing, to having everyone play their last card and finish this game,” she told the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives just before the Senate voted to remove a procedural obstacle to passage.
“We really are very close, when that (TPA) passes, I’m going to pick up the phone and call counterparts I haven’t finished business with and say ‘so when can we meet?’”
Major outstanding issues for Vetter include the final touches to an agreement with Japan to accept more U.S. farm exports, and negotiating with Canada over access to its protected dairy market, a touchy issue ahead of a general election in October.
She said once TPA passes, negotiators would probably have to hold talks, as a group or one-on-one, to set up a final meeting for the 12 ministers from TPP member countries - and that should be it.
“There really are a handful of things that ministers are going to need to decide,” she said.
Reporting by Krista Hughes; Editing by Steve Orlofsky