President Barack Obama will be in Tokyo beginning April 23th for a much anticipated state visit with his counterpart, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. In a world of increased tensions, from Crimea to the East China Sea, a number of critical topics will be on the agenda. Yet the most pressing topic at hand is likely to be the future of the sweeping Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which has been caught in something of a stalemate since Japan’s entrance into the negotiations in 2013.

The visit comes as the first stop in President Obama’s swing through Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, and the Philippines, and is being closely watched for its implications for the state of the US-Japan alliance. That relationship has been strained in the past year over Japan’s territorial disputes with China, Prime Minister Abe’s visit to a controversial wartime shrine, and what the US has seen as Tokyo’s lackluster response to Russian aggression in Ukraine.

Indeed, President Obama’s arrival will mark the first state visit by a sitting US president since Bill Clinton in 1996, and the trip has been designated an official state visit, replete with dinner with the Emperor and accompanying pomp and ceremony.

Apart from disagreements over geopolitical and territorial issues, the US and Japan are facing major obstacles to trade negotiations, which must be surmounted if the TPP is to become a reality in the near future.

President Barack Obama will be in Tokyo beginning April 23th for a much anticipated state visit with his counterpart, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. In a world of increased tensions, from Crimea to the East China Sea, a number of critical topics will be on the agenda. Yet the most pressing topic at hand is likely to be the future of the sweeping Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which has been caught in something of a stalemate since Japan’s entrance into the negotiations in 2013.

The visit comes as the first stop in President Obama’s swing through Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, and the Philippines, and is being closely watched for its implications for the state of the US-Japan alliance. That relationship has been strained in the past year over Japan’s territorial disputes with China, Prime Minister Abe’s visit to a controversial wartime shrine, and what the US has seen as Tokyo’s lackluster response to Russian aggression in Ukraine.

Indeed, President Obama’s arrival will mark the first state visit by a sitting US president since Bill Clinton in 1996, and the trip has been designated an official state visit, replete with dinner with the Emperor and accompanying pomp and ceremony.

Apart from disagreements over geopolitical and territorial issues, the US and Japan are facing major obstacles to trade negotiations, which must be surmounted if the TPP is to become a reality in the near future. The TPP, which now includes 12 Pacific Rim countries, would be the largest trade deal in history – as well as a major marker of President Obama’s “pivot” to Asia. The talks were initially to be completed in 2013, but the deadline came and went, with additional negotiations in February 2014 falling short as well.

A key sticking point for negotiators is agriculture, with the US pushing for greater access to Japan’s highly controlled markets for meat, produce, and sugar. On the flip side, the Japanese want a reduction of US automobile tariffs – which will likely raise controversy with President Obama’s allies in Congress, whose support he will need to approve any deal.

Thus, the role of the US Congress will be a major factor in determining what the Obama Administration deems possible in Tokyo, as well as for the fate of the broader TPP negotiations. In particular, the progress of trade talks will depend heavily on whether or not Congress will vote to grant President Obama Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), or fast-track authority. Under TPA legislation, Congress commits to an up or down vote on any deal the President negotiates, without amendment.

Such fast track authority has been granted to every president since the 1930s, but now its renewal – after it expired in 2007 – appears to be in real jeopardy. Leading Democrats in both the Senate and the House have made their opposition clear, in language that leaves little wiggle room.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid came out against TPA only a day after President Obama made an argument for expanded trade in his State of the Union address. And House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi has called the current TPA legislation “out of the question.” Meanwhile, leading pro-trade Republicans have criticized President Obama for what they see as his overly timid approach to convincing his own party.

These Democrats, and some Republicans as well, are concerned over the impact trade deals will have on their local constituents, as well as broader concerns over the impact of free trade on income inequality. But the White House and the office of the US Trade Representative have remained optimistic that a deal to pass TPA can still get done, arguing that the challenges of globalization and technological change will only be exacerbated without a proactive trade policy.

Unfortunately, the delay in approving the TPA is already complicating the complex negotiations involved in hammering out a deal on the Trans Pacific Partnership. The rest of the countries - which include Canada, Mexico, Chile, Australia, Vietnam, and others - must make politically difficult decisions in order to win support for freer trade in their own domestic arenas. Doing so with a US Congress that appears unlikely to approve any final deal makes that process much harder and more risky. What’s more, the progress - or lack thereof - may also impact other major trade initiatives like the massive US-EU free trade deal, TTIP.

All of these competing issues will be weighing on President Obama when he visits Tokyo. The world will be watching for signs that the US’ ambitious trade agenda is still on track.