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In Asia, can Jack Lew succeed where others have failed?

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew shakes hands with Japanese Minister of Economic Revitalization Akira Amari prior to their talks at Amari's office in Tokyo on November 12, 2013. Lew met with Japanese officials, on the first leg of his Asian tour that will also take him to Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and China.

The country’s top financial official has his work cut out for him in Asia this week. U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew heads to Asia and he plans to press China on the value of its currency.

That's an effort that for years has gone nowhere. Undeterred by those long odds, Lew will also be working to convince U.S. trade partners in the region to reach agreement on an historic free trade deal by the end of this year. A proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, with twelve members along the Pacific Rim, make up almost 40 percent of the global economy.

The U.S., Japan, Malaysia and others have been trying to close the free trade deal for three years.

"It requires political compromise," says Robert Lawrence, Professor of International Trade and Finance at Harvard. "Generally in these cases people don’t do that until they have no other choices. People [of], you know, the Treasury Secretary’s stature are going to be what it takes to make these compromises politically feasible."

The would-be members have given themselves a deadline of six more weeks to reach consensus. And that leaves some with questions about its fate.

"We have a Congress that has not acted on a Farm Bill and we have a number of restrictions other countries want to see lifted," says Jeff Schott, a senior fellow with the Peterson Institute for International Economics. "Everyone has something they're going to have to put into the pot."

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