BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Twelve Pacific Rim countries wrapped up the 19th round of the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks in Brunei on Friday, saying they made progress on tariffs and other key issues while agreeing to hold more working-level talks in the coming weeks.
During the nine-day round since Aug. 22, Japan proposed eliminating tariffs on around 80 percent of imported products, and plans to raise the offer to over 90 percent in subsequent negotiations, sources said.
Their chief negotiators will meet in Washington from Sept. 18 to 21, a negotiation source said, adding that the Brunei round was the last for full-blown negotiations, as the countries will now likely focus on “intersessional” meetings that involve only one or two working groups.
The TPP countries are trying to make progress ahead of a summit that could be held Oct. 8 in Bali, Indonesia.
In a joint statement released at the end of the Brunei round, the TPP countries said, “Negotiators advanced their technical work this round on the texts covering market access,” which deals with tariff cuts, and numerous other fields, including fishing subsidies and intellectual property.
Market access is one of the issues that Japan is keen to discuss, as it faces strong domestic pressure to protect rice and four other sensitive farm products by retaining the tariffs it levies on imports of those items.
Japan’s chief negotiator, Koji Tsuruoka, said at a press conference that the nation held bilateral tariff negotiations with all TPP countries other than Chile and Peru this time. He also said Japan exchanged lists of proposals on tariff-free items with six countries, although he did not name them.
The negotiations with the United States and Australia did not involve an exchange of a list of proposals on tariff-free items, as the U.S. has said it can only submit its offer in September and Australia is awaiting a general election Sept. 7.
Tsuruoka indicated there are plans to raise the ratio of tariff-free items, saying Japan’s counterparts that received its tariff proposals have said there is still much room for improvement.
Under the 13 existing free trade agreements concluded by Japan, the percentage of items on which Tokyo agreed to eliminate tariffs within 10 years ranges from 84.4 percent to 88.4 percent of the total.
If Japan agrees to abolish all tariffs other than those on its five key farm product categories — rice, wheat, beef and pork (counted as one), dairy products and sugar — the tariff-free percentage would rise to 93.5 percent.
The joint statement said that “having identified pathways forward, negotiators will meet again ‘intersessionally’ in the coming weeks to further their work,” adding the talks are “intended to further advance the negotiations in the lead-up to the TPP summit in Bali.”
The TPP involves Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.
Japan only joined the TPP talks near the end of the Malaysia round held in July, and the latest Brunei round was the first full negotiations it participated in.
The TPP negotiations stretch over 21 fields, as the members are aiming for creation of a comprehensive free trade pact covering nearly 40 percent of global economic output and about a third of world trade. The latest round dealt with 10 of the fields.
While most of the working groups finished negotiations for this round, some are expected to continue their work through Saturday.
TPP sources have said some groups were not as successful as desired, including the one on the environment, which made less than 40 percent of the progress expected.