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First Round Of Trans-Pacific Partnership Completed

James A. Morrissey, Washington Correspondent

U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Ron Kirk reports that what he says was an "extremely productive" first round of negotiations on an eight-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has been concluded. The five days of negotiations in Melbourne, Australia, were conducted with representatives of the United States, Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

At the conclusion of the negotiations, Kirk said: "TPP members have exchanged views openly and started thinking creatively about how to best ensure a high-standard, regional agreement."

President Barack Obama has strongly endorsed the TPP as a key element in his efforts to double U.S. exports and create two million jobs in the next five years.

Because the agreement is in its earliest stages of formation, trade lobbyists in Washington, for the most part, have held off on taking positions on it, except that the National Council of Textile Organizations (NCTO) is strongly opposed to including Vietnam, which NCTO says "will be another China" because of its non-market government-managed economy. NCTO President Cass Johnson says it is too early to evaluate the proposed agreement, because key elements have not been negotiated, but he said his association will seek a yarn-forward rule of origin, as it has in other agreements. "This rule is important," he said, "because it ensures that the benefits of the trade agreement will stay within the region itself and not be given to third party countries."

The American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA) has filed a statement with the USTR saying it supports the TPP and outlining some advantages the association sees, including the creation of markets for inputs and finished goods as well as the encouragement of new partnerships with other countries. AAFA says the agreement should provide for "robust and transparent" short supply provisions and protect the Berry Amendment that requires the Defense Department to buy U.S.-made textiles and apparel.

Kirk said he will now be seeking further input from Congress and U.S. stakeholders on negotiating objectives and approaches to key issues as the TPP members prepare for another round of negotiations in June.

March 23, 2010