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Delay in Pacific trade pact hurts US pivot to Asia

WASHINGTON--The failure to finalize a landmark trans-Pacific trade pact this year as planned has dealt a blow to President Barack Obama's policy pivot to Asia.

While negotiators say they have made substantial progress, myriad hurdles remain to creating a bloc encompassing a third of global trade. One of the biggest will be winning the backing of the U.S. Congress.

As recently as October, the leaders of the 12 nations in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, had said their goal was reach an agreement by the end of 2013, although most analysts had viewed that as unrealistic given the complexity of the pact and the political pressures governments face in winning domestic approval.

Labor groups and lawmakers from Obama's own Democratic party wasted little time in pouncing on the indecisive outcome Tuesday of closed-door deliberations in Singapore. Trade ministers said that they had identified “potential landing zones” for most of the outstanding issues, but gave few specifics. They plan to meet again next month.

“The failure in Singapore makes clear that the administration is far from reaching agreement with the other countries, and it's far from reaching a deal that the Congress can support,” Democratic Rep. Rosa DeLauro told reporters.

With sizeable numbers of lawmakers from Obama's party coming out against the deal, principally because they argue it will cost American jobs, the administration will be counting on strong Republican support, which is not guaranteed in the bitterly partisan political atmosphere that pervades Washington.

“There may be a significant number of tea partiers who are so fed up with Obama that they're willing to depart from their values on free trade to obstruct the legislative program,” said Gary Hufbauer, an international trade expert at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. He was referring to the radical wing of the Republican Party that forced a partial government shutdown this fall during a budget standoff.

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