President Barack Obama said today that his absence at trade talks in Bali won't have lasting damage but represented a lost opportunity in his bid to wrap up the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership.
"I should have been there," Obama said at a White House news conference.
Even though Obama decided to skip the talks, the White House said that the 12 countries negotiating the proposed TPP, as it's informally called, are "on track" to complete the deal.
But critics of the pact said it's clearly in trouble and unlikely to be wrapped up by the end of the year.
After 19 rounds of formal talks, the U.S. is trying to put the final touches on a sweeping pact with Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.
In a joint statement, the leaders of the 12 counties said the ministers and negotiators involved in the effort have made "significant progress in recent months" and are still aiming to complete their work by the end of 2013.
Obama scrapped plans to go to Bali to meet with them over the weekend due to the government shutdown.
After working hard to advance the deal, he compared his absence to "not showing up to my own party."
"You know, in each of these big meetings that we have around the world, a lot of business gets done," Obama said, adding that it's important to wrap up a deal in person, not by phone.
Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch and a critic of the agreement, said Obama's decision to miss the talks shows "there is little chance" that Congress will act quickly on a trade pact.
"That the leaders have admitted that there is no deal nor a clear path to obtaining one this year ... reveals the growing domestic political blowback against the TPP that the leaders are now trying to manage," she said.