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Japan to join TPP talks at next round in July

Kyodo

The 11 countries involved in the Trans-Pacific Partnership have agreed to hold the next round of free-trade talks in Kuala Lumpur from July 15 to 25, extending the meeting to include Japan as the 12th member.

The United States and the 10 other member nations wrapped up their 17th round of negotiations Friday in Lima.

Trade minister Toshimitsu Motegi indicated earlier in the day the Japan can join no earlier than the afternoon of July 23, as that is when U.S. congressional procedures regarding Japan’s entry to the discussions will be met.

That will leave Japan with a narrow window in its debut round to try to secure its national interests. The TPP members aim to conclude a deal by the end of this year.

Speaking at a news conference Friday, Edgar Vasquez, Peru’s chief negotiator, said it was difficult to get all 11 countries to agree to add even one day to the schedule, whereas Japan had sought to have the round extended by two days or more.

With the U.S. domestic procedure still under way, Japan could not take part in the Peru round despite gaining the unanimous backing of other TPP members last month. Still, the government will get a chance to have its say because discussions on some key fields, including market access, have apparently made little headway.

Vasquez said the TPP nations made significant progress in the fields of e-commerce, customs and rules of origin in the latest round, and indicated they have effectively reached agreements on nearly half of the fields on the negotiating table.

But he also said more time is required for negotiations on market access, handling of intellectual property and government-owned enterprises, as well as the environment.

Speaking to the press earlier Friday in Tokyo, economic revitalization minister Akira Amari, who is also in charge of the TPP portfolio, said Japan can “assume the offensive” in negotiations over fields such as market access since the other member states have yet to reach the final stages.

Market access negotiations, which cover tariffs on farm products that are key Japanese interests, also have made slow progress in previous rounds.