Obama urges 'major progress' this year on US-EU trade pact

WASHINGTON (AFP) - US President Barack Obama on Friday called for “major progress” in 2015 on a huge free trade agreement currently under negotiation between Washington and the 28-member European Union.

Obama also dismissed concerns that the controversial negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), as well as another key trade pact with Asian nations, would cause deep political fissures in the United States, saying the pacts would “absolutely” benefit American workers.

“Now that Congress is considering bipartisan legislation, TTIP negotiations need to make major progress this year,” Obama told a joint press conference alongside visiting Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi at the White House.

His comments came one day after senior US lawmakers reached a deal on legislation giving Obama “trade promotion authority” to conclude the landmark accords, with Congress ultimately voting up or down on them but without the ability to make changes.

Obama noted that the bipartisan legislation, which will face stiff opposition from many in his Democratic Party including senior senators, requires enforceable labor, environmental and human rights provisions.

“In many ways, this is the most far-reaching and progressive trade promotion authority we’ve seen going through Congress,” Obama said.

But he also warned that congressional failure to give him the so-called “fast-track” authority will allow countries such as China, without a long free-market tradition, to step in to write the world’s trade rules.

“The fastest growing markets, populace markets, are going to be in Asia,” he said, speaking of the Trans-Pacific Partnership under negotiation with 11 other Pacific nations, but not China.

“If we do not help to shape the rules so that our businesses and our workers can compete in those markets, then China will set up rules that advantage Chinese workers and Chinese businesses.