KUALA LUMPUR – The 12 countries negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact have set four deadlines for reaching a consensus on eliminating tariffs, aiming for a basic agreement by the end of October, negotiation sources said.
Under the four-stage timetable, all TPP countries except Japan are required to put 75 percent of their respective tariff lines on the negotiation table by Aug. 16, 90 percent by Aug. 30, 95 percent by Sept. 20 and 100 percent by the end of October, the sources said.
Japan is expected to be given some leeway in meeting the deadlines in view of its late entry into the negotiations, according to the sources. Japan joined the TPP process last month, at the tail end of the latest round of talks.
Japan is aiming to protect five products — beef and pork, defined as one product, rice, wheat, dairy products and sugar — by retaining high tariffs on their import.
The Liberal Democratic Party and Diet agriculture panels have adopted resolutions calling for protecting key farm products.
The five key items represent 6.5 percent of the value of all of Japan’s current tariffs.
Akira Amari, the Cabinet minister in charge of the TPP talks, said Thursday that Japan is readying proposals on lowering and eliminating tariffs.
“We are vigorously making preparations for the coming negotiations, including compiling our offers with regard to market access for goods,” Amari told reporters, without elaborating.
Amari added that the government will keep in mind the LDP and Diet resolutions on maintaining the “sanctuaries.”
The 12 countries have basically agreed to conclude bilateral negotiations over tariff elimination by Sept. 20 to subsequently focus on multilateral negotiations, the sources said.
The next round of talks is set for Aug. 22 to 30 in Brunei. The TPP countries are considering holding a ministerial meeting at that time to accelerate their talks toward an agreement on the tariff elimination issue in October.
In a related development Friday, government officials briefed LDP lawmakers on the current status of the negotiations.
The Diet members were told that Japan has joined in time for negotiations on market access and other fields the country is keen to discuss.
They were also informed that the talks involve a strict nondisclosure agreement prohibiting members from releasing information for four years after the conclusion of a deal.
The government’s TPP team meanwhile released opinions from 77 industry groups on the negotiations, which included calls for lowering or eliminating tariffs on automobiles and sake, among other goods.