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Pacific Rim trade deal faces scrutiny in Congress

The United States, Japan and 10 other Pacific Rim nations reached a final agreement on the largest regional trade accord in history.

The United States, Japan and 10 other Pacific Rim nations reached a final agreement on the largest regional trade accord in history, but the deal faces an uphill battle getting the go-ahead from Congress.

The conclusion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, after years of negotiations and a series of sleepless nights, was merely “an important first step,” said Michael B. Froman, the United States trade representative, as he and other weary officials announced their accord.

Now the deal faces months of scrutiny in Congress, where some bipartisan opposition was immediate, according to The New York Times.

That debate will unfurl against the backdrop of a presidential campaign in which populist anti-trade talk against the deal is already prominent.

“When more than 95 percent of our potential customers live outside our borders, we can’t let countries like China write the rules of the global economy,” President Barack Obama said in a statement. “We should write those rules, opening new markets to American products while setting high standards for protecting workers and preserving our environment.”

The Pacific accord would phase out thousands of import tariffs and other barriers to international trade, such as Japanese regulations that keep out some American-made autos and trucks, according to The Times.

It also would establish uniform rules on corporations’ intellectual property and open the Internet, even in communist Vietnam.

The Office of the United States Trade Representative said it eventually would end more than 18,000 tariffs that the participating countries have placed on American exports, including autos, machinery, information technology and consumer goods and chemicals.

The trade ministers who negotiated it predicted that the overall economic and political heft of the 12-nation group will turn the accord into a model for future trade agreements. It would overhaul the system for settling disputes between nations and foreign companies while barring tobacco companies from using that process to block countries’ anti-smoking initiatives. Negotiators said it also would enforce higher standards for labor conditions and environmental protection, including wildlife trafficking.

By law, Congress will have months to deliberate, perhaps until next April. After Obama officially notifies Congress that he intends to sign the accord, that notice will give Congress 90 days to consider it.

Additional time most likely will be needed, congressional and administration officials said.

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