Conclusion of TPP talks by year-end seen as unlikely
(c) 2013, The Yomiuri Shimbun.
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — With contentious issues left unsolved at the latest round of Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade negotiations, a successful conclusion of the talks by the year-end remains unlikely.
Chief negotiators from Japan, the United States and 10 other countries in the TPP talks ended their six-day meeting held in Salt Lake City on Sunday without significant progress, leaving it to settlement at a ministerial meeting scheduled to be held in Singapore on Dec. 7.
Recalling the intense negotiations on Sunday evening, a South American representative pointed to some progress. However, speaking at a hotel where the meeting was held, the tired-looking official also said unresolved issues still remained.
At the meeting that began on Nov. 19, officials of the United States, which hosted the talks, showed negotiators of the other 11 participating countries slides depicting the remaining issues.
U.S. negotiators aim to achieve substantial results in the TPP talks ahead of mid-term elections next November. Therefore, the United States acted as though the final stage of the negotiations had neared, according to a person involved in the talks.
"We shared the feeling that the 12 nations were working toward concluding the TPP talks by the year-end," said Hiroshi Oe, Japan's acting chief TPP negotiator, at a news conference Monday evening in Tokyo.
"Japan contributed to creating such an atmosphere," Oe added, looking proud of the progress made in the negotiations.
However, according to a source close to the negotiations, the United States made very few concessions in the latest round of talks.
Prior to the current talks, the United States seemed to focus on making progress in the negotiations over contentious areas. However, one representative of an Asian nation said in an unsatisfied tone that demands from the United States remained vast.
Eighteen of the 21 areas covered in the TPP negotiations were discussed at the latest round of talks. Such areas as telecommunications, which were near agreement, were removed from the agenda.
The negotiators were near agreement in more than half the areas covered in Salt Lake City. These include "government procurement," in which the negotiators discussed opening opportunities for foreign firms to bid on public works projects, and "cross-border services," which regulate trade in service sectors.
As there were few contentious points from the beginning, officials made compromises in many of these areas to speed up agreement.
Regarding "trade facilitation," which determines the rules of customs procedure, the negotiators decided to remove the points each nation was unable to agree upon.
Regarding food safety standards, the negotiators agreed not to risk creating conflicts of interest among each country, according to a government source.
The gap among each country in the negotiations over contentious areas remains wide.
Japan has held bilateral talks with all of its 11 counterparts to discuss tariff abolition and reductions of agricultural products and industrial goods.
Some countries, including the U.S., have demanded tariff abolition on agricultural products, making it difficult for Japan to make any progress.
"In comparison with what other nations are proposing, I must say [the demands of Japan] are quite few. We come under a lot of pressure," Oe said, acknowledging the severe situation surrounding the TPP negotiations.
Industrialized nations such as the U.S., and such emerging countries as Malaysia and Vietnam, remain divided over "competition policies," which focus on reviewing policies favoring state-owned companies, and "intellectual property rights" for copyrights and patents of new drugs.
At the ministerial meeting in December, negotiators will likely discuss the issues expected to cause the biggest concerns among the nations. They hope to reach an agreement by making concessions on one item while protecting another.
However, a person close to the TPP talks said, "There's sure to be one last issue that none of the countries will find it easy to agree on."
Yasue is a correspondent in Washington.