Obama says Asia trade pact could be 'historic'

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BEIJING — President Barack Obama pressed world leaders Monday to break stubborn logjams that have held up an agreement on a trans-Pacific trade deal that is eagerly sought by the White House and could lead to rare consensus with congressional Republicans.

“This has the potential for being an historic agreement,” Obama said as he opened the trade talks being held on the sidelines of the broader Asia-Pacific conference in Beijing.

Ahead of Obama’s arrival in China on Monday, U.S. officials had downplayed the prospect that an elusive deal would be reached during the president’s eight-day, three-nation trip to the region. However, the fact that Obama convened the leader-level discussions prompted some speculation of a breakthrough in the 12-nation negotiations.

Obama has made the Trans-Pacific Partnership a centerpiece of his efforts to boost U.S. economic investment in Asia, which he called “the fastest-growing, most populous, most dynamic region in the world economically.”

The results of last week’s U.S. midterm elections had made the political climate in Washington more conducive to international trade pacts. While some members of Obama’s Democratic Party are wary of the impact trade deals could have on U.S. labor unions, Republicans have been supportive of giving the president authority to speed up approval of a final pact by making it harder for lawmakers to make changes.

Disputes between the U.S. and Japan on market access for their major industries have been at the heart of the stalemate over the trade deal. China is not a party to the trade talks.

JULIE PACE, AP White House Correspondent

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