President Barack Obama will be in Asia starting Monday with an itinerary that includes attending the APEC CEO Summit, a state visit with Chinese President Xi Jinping and the G20 summit in Brisbane, Australia.
Among the top items on the agenda is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a 12-country free trade agreement that has proven difficult to hammer out between the U.S. and Japan before being presented to the other 10 countries, says Derek Scissors, an Asia scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
“There are a lot of really contentious issues,” says Scissors. “Can American farm goods freely enter the Japanese market? The Japanese have resisted this for years. Can Japanese autos freely enter the American market? The United States has resisted.”
If the U.S. and Japan were to settle their differences, that would be a major success story coming out of this latest trip, says Scissors.
For a president that may be looking at a tough road ahead on his domestic agenda, it makes sense to switch focus to foreign policy, says Russell Riley, a presidential historian at the University of Virginia.
“Towards the end of the term, when presidents are thinking about legacies, they do become focused on places abroad, where they feel like they can make a difference,” Riley says.
The timing may work out for the president, as a recovering economy offers the U.S. a renewed leadership role in global trade.
“We’re the only one doing well,” says Scissors. “So everyone is looking to the United States for wise economic policy, which we don’t always deliver…And the TTP is a good step in that agenda.”