Obama's Asia-Pacific Trade Deal: What You Should Know

The future of the Trans-Pacific Partnership could hinge on President Obama's four-nation trip to Asia.

Obama's Asia-Pacific Trade Deal: What You Should Know
The New York Times / Stephen Crowley

It's been described as the centerpiece of President Obama's Asia strategy and possibly the world's "biggest free trade deal." (Via The White House

Observers say the success of Trans-Pacific Partnership rides on the president's widely watched visit to Asia this week. (Via CNN

​The Trans-Pacific Partnership, otherwise known as the TPP, is an ambitious free trade agreement that, if successful, would eliminate trade barriers for a dozen countries. In all, they represent 40 percent of the world's GDP. (Via Wikimedia Commons / Gobierno de Chile)

But in reality, the real heavy lifting lies with the group's two biggest economies — Japan and the U.S. 

And while the deal has been in the works for years, Obama and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe aren't expected to hash out a final agreement this week. There are far too many sticking points. (Via The White House

For one, the White House is dealing with a skeptical Congress. The administration says the TPP would create more jobs and points to estimates that find the U.S. could get net $78 billion from the deal, and supporters see it as a way to strengthen ties with U.S. allies in the region and weaken China's influence. (Via Euronews, The Peterson Institute for International Economics

But David Pilling and Shawn Donnan​ at Financial Times explain many critics see it as a "giant corporate power grab," others as "a US geopolitical exercise in Asian re-engagement gussied up in free-trade clothing."

Some of the most vocal opposition is coming from within Obama's own party. Many Democrats have opposed legislation giving the White House the power to fast-track trade deals like this. (Via Politico, The Huffington Post, Salon

Part of problem, The Washington Post's Jaime Fuller notes, the TPP is too big for members of Congress to get a grasp on. "Think of it like an omnibus bill in Congress, where a bunch of the treaty's drafters get to toss in pork to keep their constituencies happy. No one is completely happy when an omnibus bill is passed. Same deal here."

Even if the president did have the full backing of Congress, Japan and the U.S. still need to find common ground when it comes to market access. (Via The White House

​Tokyo wants to keep tariffs on certain agricultural products and Washington wants to retain its auto tariffs. Each side is asking the other to be more flexible. (Via Channel News AsiaCBS)

Analysts don't expect Obama or Abe to break the deadlock in this week's meeting. Instead in May, negotiators for all 12 countries involved will meet for a round of negotiations in Vietnam.