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Top TPP negotiators thrash out hurdles ahead of talks

Kyodo

Chief negotiators for the Trans-Pacific Partnership opened a meeting Wednesday to thrash out thorny issues in a bid to streamline the talks for a deal by the end of the year.

The negotiators from Japan, the U.S. and 10 other Pacific Rim countries have gathered in Washington for four days of talks to prepare for a special leaders’ summit on the free trade pact next month in Indonesia.

The chief negotiators discussed five topics on the first day and ordered subcommittees to sort out issues that need to be settled before next month’s summit, a Japanese delegate said, without elaborating on the topics. The 12 countries aim to reach a basic agreement at the summit in Indonesia for the creation of one of the world’s largest free trade zones covering about a third of world trade. The meeting of chief negotiators is running in parallel with a working group session on tariff elimination scheduled for Friday to Monday in Washington.

For Japan, which joined the talks in late July and only took part in the tariff negotiations in the last round in Brunei in August, this week’s sessions are expected to provide further opportunities to negotiate retaining tariffs on sensitive farm products, Japanese officials said.

The government faces strong domestic pressure to protect key agricultural products amid concern that an influx of cheap imports could devastate Japan’s agricultural sector.

Japan has so far exchanged lists of items on which it would eliminate tariffs with Brunei, New Zealand, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru and Singapore during the 19th round of talks in Brunei. The percentage of tariff-free items on Japan’s list remained relatively low at around 80 percent.

Aside from tariffs, other difficult issues on the negotiating table include intellectual property rights dealing with the length of copyright protection and patent terms, and rules pertaining to government procurement in connection with public works projects.