President Obama met with the heads of state of Canada and Mexico on Tuesday, April 3 at the North American Leaders’ Summit. Canadian Prime Minister Harper and Mexican President Calderon used the Summit as an opportunity to express their frustration with President Obama that the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) has not yet permitted Canada and Mexico to enter the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a wide-ranging free trade agreement covering the Asia-Pacific region, and to escalate pressure on the U.S. Both countries recently have asked the United States (and the other eight TPP countries) to grant them entry into the talks – an outcome that, combined with the possible inclusion of Japan – would expand the TPP to cover 40 percent of global GDP. Although the President and USTR Ron Kirk agreed with their Canadian and Mexican counterparts that the TPP provides an opportunity to deepen trade relations even further and to address unemployment, the United States has not yet committed publicly to Canada or Mexico as to their admission to the talks.
The possible expansion of the TPP is an important trade issue facing the Obama Administration in an election year. The TPP negotiations have progressed over the past three years, but the negotiating parties have identified several key issues that are unlikely to be resolved in 2012. USTR thus far has been reluctant, however, to expedite the admittance of new countries and has instead sought to advance the negotiations as far as possible before election year politics force the talks to grind to an effective halt.