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UNITED States President Barack Obama expressed confidence that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free-trade agreement will be ratified by the US Congress before he steps down from office in January 2017.
"I'm confident we're going to get it done," he told reporters in Manila on Wednesday, where he is attending a two-day gathering of world leaders at the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) Summit.
He was responding to recent comments by some Republican lawmakers, who insist that Congress is unlikely to vote on the TPP before his second and final term is up.
Mr Obama wants this 12-nation pact to be the economic cornerstone of his country's foreign-policy pivot towards Asia.
He has heavily championed the merits of the accord in recent weeks, promising that it will generate higher wages, safer workplaces, fairer competition and a cleaner environment, among other benefits.
The TPP nations are the US, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. Collectively, they account for 40 per cent of the global economy.
Mr Obama held talks with the leaders of the 11 other countries in the Philippine capital on Wednesday, in what was their first meeting since the TPP was finalised last month. He also hosted them to lunch.
"(The TPP) is not only a good deal economically, but also reflects our common values ... This is the highest standard and most progressive trade deal ever concluded," he said at the closed-door session.
With the full text of the agreement made public on Nov 5, the onus is now on the 12 countries to get the green light from their respective legislatures to make the deal a reality, a task that Mr Obama said would not be easy.
In his remarks to the leaders, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong praised all the nations involved for their determination to take the negotiations across the finish line.
"We have to move swiftly and resolutely to secure domestic approval. Singapore stands ready to sign the agreement and we hope to have the TPP in force within two years," he said. A joint statement issued by the 12 leaders did not specify a timeframe.
He noted that many countries will face challenges in the ratification process and he urged them to press on, having reached this stage after five years of negotiations.
This was the first TPP meeting for new Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau since he was sworn in on Nov 4. He and his key ministers have already said that they want to hold further consultations and a debate in parliament before they commit to signing the pact.
Mr Lee welcomed Mr Trudeau to the TPP family, noting that Canada was one of the countries that Singapore does not yet have a bilateral free-trade agreement with. The TPP, in this respect, could add to the Singapore-Canada relationship.
"I hope after Canada goes through the domestic consultations, it will be able to endorse and sign on to this agreement," said Mr Lee.
The Singapore leader also urged all the governments involved to ensure that the TPP's benefits were shared widely and to help industries or workers who may be affected by greater competition and more open markets.
He added that while the TPP was a major step forward in trade liberalisation, it should be seen as one of several pathways towards Apec's long-term goal of establishing the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP).
He mentioned other major free-trade frameworks such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and the Pacific Alliance.
The former is a 16-nation agreement between the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean) and its six FTA partners; the latter is a Latin-American trade bloc of four countries - Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru - bordering the Pacific Ocean.
"They each have their pluses and minuses, but I think they each have their part to play ... To get (to the FTAAP), we should, within the TPP, warmly welcome others who wish to join, who can match up to its high standards," said Mr Lee.
The Philippines, the host of this year's Apec Summit, is one of many interested parties that have expressed interest in joining the TPP.
On Wednesday, during a bilateral meeting with Mr Obama, Philippines President Benigno Aquino asked the US to support his country's bid to do so. South Korea and Indonesia are among those that have also indicated they want to be part of the TPP at some point.
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