TPP nations to kick off fresh officials meeting in Vietnam

Source: Global Post

3 Sep 2014

Senior officials from 12 countries involved in the Pacific Rim free trade initiative will begin a fresh round of negotiations in Hanoi on Monday, aiming to clear a path for a broad agreement within this year.

But it is uncertain how much closer they can move over contentious issues, official sources say, as not a few issues remain to be resolved, while Japan and the United States — the biggest economies in the Trans-Pacific Partnership — have yet to secure a bilateral deal seen as key to advancing the broad negotiations.

The United States, which leads the TPP, is seeking to see a significant outcome in time for President Barack Obama’s Asia trip in November, when a summit meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum is scheduled for Beijing.

Critics doubt if the blueprint is achievable, however, given the U.S. midterm elections in November that would make it hard for Washington to make tricky political decisions over outstanding issues.

During the 10-day working-level meeting in the Vietnamese capital, the 12 TPP negotiating countries will focus on three difficult areas — intellectual property rights, the environment and reform of state-owned firms — while also engaging in bilateral talks on tariff-cutting issues, according to a Japanese government official.

On the issue of intellectual property, the United States is in conflict with emerging economies over the protection period of data concerning new medicines, which would affect the availability of generic medicines.

Over the reform of state-owned firms to establish fair competition, Vietnam is opposed to setting unified rules as its economy is dominated by such companies. It is also uncertain whether developing economies will accept standards to protect the environment in the process of promoting global trade.

Developed and emerging countries have been at odds over all of the three issues and their negotiations have made little progress since the last working-level meeting held in Ottawa, Canada, in July, the sources said.

On a separate track, Tokyo and Washington are slated to hold bilateral working-level negotiations from Wednesday to Friday in Washington on the issue of market access for autos.

When Obama visited Tokyo in April, Japan’s minister in charge of the TPP, Akira Amari, held round-the-clock bilateral talks with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman to bridge their gaps.

Although they failed to reach a broad agreement that time, the two sides said they have “identified a path forward” on the outstanding issues, suggesting there has been major progress.

Amari said at a press conference Friday it would be better for he and Froman to secure a bilateral agreement in September, in light of the goal proposed by Obama of striking a deal by all 12 parties in November.

“If (the 12 countries) are to strike a broad agreement in November, it’d be better if Japan and the United States found common ground on a ministerial level in September,” Amari said.

The TPP — which would account for around 40 percent of global gross domestic product and one-third of all world trade — involves Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.

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