Low initial goal eyed for next TPP round

JIJI, Kyodo

Japan plans to initially present a less ambitious trade liberalization goal in Trans-Pacific Partnership talks, Akira Amari, minister in charge of TPP issues, suggested Thursday.

The negotiations will start with low numbers, Amari said at a news conference after he and other Cabinet ministers discussed their strategy for the next round of TPP talks starting next Thursday in Brunei.

His comments suggest Japan will first offer a low number as the proportion of trade items on which it promises to end tariffs.

In Brunei, Japan will for the first time join negotiations on market access in which member countries discuss tariffs on agricultural and industrial products.

Market access will be the toughest TPP sector for Japan, a source with access to the talks said, because the country wants to avoid tariffs being removed from its five key agricultural products, including rice and sugar.

Japan has concluded bilateral economic partnership agreements with seven of the 11 other countries involved in the TPP talks, including Singapore and Peru.

The proportion of trade items on which Japan has promised to eliminate tariffs within 10 years under the EPAs stands at 84 to 87 percent of the total.

The TPP talks have a goal of abolishing all tariffs, while the actual proportion of tariff-free items is expected to settle at around 98 percent, sources said.

Starting with the Brunei round, Japan, which made its TPP debut last month, will be able to participate fully in negotiations. It plans to send a team of more than 100 negotiators to Brunei.

In Kuala Lumpur on Thursday, the Malaysian government stressed amid increasing domestic pressure that it will only sign the TPP if the terms are “most favorable” to the country.

Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s Cabinet held a special meeting Thursday to discuss the negotiations, the International Trade and Industry Ministry said.

“The prime minister and Cabinet directed negotiators to continue ensuring that Malaysia’s sovereignty is defended in the course of the TPP negotiations. They are unanimous in reinforcing Malaysia’s position that we will only agree to the TPP with terms that are most favorable to our country,” the statement said.