SINGAPORE – Japan is unlikely to be able to join the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations by the next round in May, Singapore’s chief TPP trade negotiator said Wednesday.
“I don’t think we are looking at Japan specifically coming on board in Lima,” Ng Bee Kim said at a news conference attended by all 11 negotiators at the end of the 16th round of TPP talks in Singapore.
She said countries can only join the full talks after bilateral or group consultations with other TPP countries to gain their approval, followed by all TPP members clearing domestic and legal hurdles.
Several of the TPP chief negotiators also stressed at the news conference that they will seek assurances that Japan’s participation won’t slow their goal of striking a deal by October.
“We are now in round 16, a very advanced stage of the negotiations,” Ng added.
For new members “to join the TPP . . . there must be a clear understanding they share the goal of an ambitious and comprehensive agreement and that they will be able to conclude positively to the momentum of concluding the round in 2013,” Ng said.
New Zealand chief negotiator David Walker added, “We are now all working to conclude the negotiation in the course of 2013, so we will need to understand how any new member looking to join the negotiation at this stage will be able to reassure us.”
A source close to the negotiations said Japan’s possible inclusion was discussed by the TPP negotiators in Singapore and many expressed concern Japan’s protection of its rice and other agricultural sectors might create problems within the TPP negotiations.
The TPP countries intensified their negotiations in Singapore and made solid progress in bridging gaps in some areas, Singapore’s Ministry of Trade and Industry said in a statement at the end of the 16th round of negotiations.