SINGAPORE — Your GAP shirts and Nike shoes might get cheaper, but the jobs of the 1,350 U.S. employees of Boston-based sneaker-maker New Balance could be in trouble. Detroit automakers might get to sell more cars and trucks into Japan, but the U.S. manufacturers of the fabric used in those vehicles could be out of work. These are among the dozens of tradeoffs in play as officials from the United States and 11 other countries descend on Singapore this weekend to negotiate what would be the largest trade deal in world history — potentially 1.5 times the size of NAFTA and worth as much as $124 billion in new U.S. exports by 2025.
The negotiations started Saturday, but intense talks were well under way at the World Trade Organization’s meeting this week in Bali, Indonesia. U.S. negotiators were spied huddling one-on-one with counterparts from other countries in hotels and restaurants, working through the details of the mega-regional trade deal.
However, after nearly four years and 19 rounds of talks, the deal’s finish line remains far away. U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman’s team headed to Singapore will again confront deep disputes with Japan, Australia, Vietnam and other countries — all with their own political pressures at home — this week. Japan, for example, won’t budge on allowing other countries to sell more rice and beef there. Australia wants to ditch the limits Congress placed on the sugar it can sell in the United States, and Vietnam is furious over congressional efforts to block its catfish exports.