US Senator: I couldn't be less optimistic on a TPP deal

Obama's Asia visit is symbolic: Senator
Obama's Asia visit is symbolic: Senator

Ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Japan this week, U.S. Senator Roger Wicker told CNBC he would be "shocked and delighted" if any progress was made on a much anticipated trade agreement between the two countries.

Obama plans to visit Japan, the Republic of Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines in a week long visit starting on Tuesday, hoping to win back some favor in the region after the cancellation last October's visit amid budget wrangling at home which was broadly seen as a snub.

Many anticipate that the visit will help facilitate progress on the U.S.-led Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). The deal which has been under negotiation since 2010 aims to eliminate trade barriers between countries and boost trade relationships. The pact is seen as a crucial part of the U.S. government's rebalance towards Asia, known as its 'pivot.'

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"I think it's [this visit] largely symbolic," Wicker, U.S. Senator for Mississippi and Republican Party member, told CNBC on Tuesday, in reference to Obama's visit.

"We need the President to visit Japan every now and then to show our alliance but in terms of anything new, like progress on the trade agreement, I couldn't be less optimistic about that," he added.

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Barack Obama (R) attend the opening session of the at the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit on March 24, 2014 in The Hague, Netherlands.
Pool | Getty Images News

Stumbling blocks at home and abroad

Negotiations on the TPP have come up against a number of stumbling blocks in recent years, predominantly from those working for Japan's protected industries, like agriculture, autos and insurance. The opening up of these sectors would leave them exposed to the threat of foreign competition, a move which is being fiercely protested.

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Other industry commentators also told CNBC they were pessimistic about anything solid coming out of Obama's state visit.

"I don't think this is going to produce anything," said Larry Lindsey, president and CEO of the Lindsey Group.

"The president's party [in] the Senate is against voting on what we call 'trade promotion authority' which would make it easy for the president to negotiate a deal. It's certainly not going to happen before the elections, and may not happen if the Democrats keep the Senate, so I think this is more of a show," he added.

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Progress on the TPP has also come up against opposition in the U.S. from members of Obama's Democrat Party. The trade promotion authority bill, which Obama called for in January, would enable the President to submit the TPP agreement to Congress for a straightforward vote without amendments, but has stalled due to opposition from fellow Democrats.

"You're not going to get a TPP if the Asian partners don't know that the deal they cut is the final deal and we can't have that without trade promotion authority," added Wicker.

Why Obama's Asia visit is 'merely a show'
Why Obama's Asia visit is 'merely a show'

Wicker also told CNBC he saw domestic issues in Japan continuing to scupper progress on the deal.

"We have to fight the labor unions every time and there are some real agricultural concerns in Japan, basically entire islands will be shut down if this deal goes through," he said.

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"I think the president is going to have a real hard time getting anything done in that regard so his trip is mainly a show of our alliance. I'll be shocked and delighted if something comes out of it," he added.

Twelve countries are part of the TPP: the U.S., Australia, Brunei, Chile, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.