SYDNEY: The shape of an ambitious pan-Pacific trade agreement was “crystallizing,” trade ministers said on Monday, although the United States and Japan remain divided over
Australian Trade Minister Andrew Robb said officials had laid the groundwork for the conclusion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal, which would encompass 40 percent of the global economy.
“Over the course of our weekend meeting, we have spent a considerable portion of our time in one-on-one discussions,” said Robb, who hosted the Australian leg of the discussions in Sydney.
“That has allowed us to make further progress in the negotiations on market access for goods, services and investment.
“We consider that the shape of an ambitious, comprehensive, high-standard and balanced deal is crystallizing.”
The TPP deal has been the subject of discussions for several years, with negotiations slowing while the United States and Tokyo debate key details, including Japanese tariffs on agricultural imports and US access to Japan’s auto market.
Even so, US President Barack Obama said in June he hoped to have an agreement on framing the deal by November, when he is expected in the region for talks, including the G20 summit in Brisbane.
Robb said negotiators were making “significant progress” in both the market access and trade and investment rules discussions, and were to consult within their own countries and with each other to “resolve outstanding issues.”
US-Japan talks remain sticking point
Despite the developments, the US and Japan’s trade representatives said there were still differences between their nations over access to each other’s markets.
Japanese Economy Minister Akira Amari said their bilateral talks, including one on Monday morning, had made “considerable progress, but still some important issues are remaining.”
“At this point in time, we cannot say that there is a clear prospect of US-Japan market access negotiations to be concluded,” Amari added through a translator.
US Trade Representative Michael Froman echoed his sentiments and said their negotiating teams were working together to “try and bridge the remaining differences”, particularly in the agriculture and auto sectors.
Bilateral discussions between the US, Japan and larger nations such as Mexico and Canada were also a sensitive issue for smaller participants, New Zealand’s Trade Minister Tim Groser said.
“They are to understand and have a very careful appreciation that a sweetheart deal that just is made in Tokyo and Washington . . . will cause immense disruption to this negotiation,” he said.
Supporters of the trade deal say it will free up trade in the region, reduce regulation and increase job opportunities.
But opponents argue it would benefit big business rather than the general public, and lead to a rise in the price of medications, fewer Internet freedoms and environmental damage.
One point of concern has been the so-called investor-state dispute settlement, or ISDS, which allows firms to sue national governments if they feel that local laws violate a trade deal and threaten their investments.
But Froman insisted none of the 12 nations would “do anything through TPP” that would block governments’ abilities to enact legislation in the public interest.
“The work that we are doing is to ensure that we… can regulate in the public interest as we provide the kind of investment protections that are necessary to ensure strong flows of trade investment around the world,” Froman said.
The 12 prospective TPP members are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam. AFP