TOKYO — The failure of a package of trade-related measures Friday in the House was a blow to President Obama, but it was also a blow to his ally, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, half a world away.
Abe has made reviving Japan’s stubbornly anemic economy one of his top priorities, and forging a wide-ranging trade pact with the United States, through the Trans Pacific Partnership, was a key part of that goal.
For both countries, TPP has been viewed as a way to counter a rising China. For the United States, it was a way to project influence in Asia; whereas, for Japan, it was a way to regain some of the economic might it has lost as China has gained.
For China, that means Friday’s actions in the House counted as something of a victory. “The outcome won’t affect China that much, but China would be happy to see it and chuckle underneath,” said Shi Yinhong, director of U.S. Study Center at Renmin University.
The House voted down a package of trade-related bills as Democrats rebuffed Obama’s personal pleas for their support for his free-trade initiative.
The package included a measure to give the administration “fast-track” negotiating authority considered crucial for conclude the Pacific Rim trade deal. This would allow the administration to agree to a deal that Congress would approve or reject, without the ability to make amendments.
Japan, the second biggest party to the deal after the United States, has been counting on the deal to boost trade and to help the government usher in much-needed reforms — particularly in agriculture and automobiles — that would be difficult to institute without the excuse of outside impetus.
Akira Amari, Japan’s trade minister and lead negotiator in the TPP talks, said that the result in the House made the situation “extremely delicate.”