TPP chiefs ready for Singapore meeting

by Kakumi Kobayashi

Kyodo

Chief negotiators from the 12 countries of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations set the stage Sunday for next month’s ministerial meeting, ending their talks aimed at sifting through as many thorny issues as possible.

Details of the talks are not yet clear but negotiators are believed to have made progress in some fields, such as government procurement, while among others, gaps apparently remain over market access for goods and intellectual property.

Ministers from the 12 countries, including the U.S., Japan, Australia and Canada, will discuss the pending issues in ministerial talks slated for Dec. 7-10 in Singapore to achieve the goal of signing a deal by the end of this year.

A senior Japanese government official said earlier that the 12 countries were set to reach a deal in the field of government procurement rules, which include bidding rules and other issues related to public works projects such as the construction of roads and railways.

Negotiations also entered a last-minute stage on the issue of simplifying procedures for businesspeople entering another TPP member country, the official said.

The chief negotiators are believed to have made headway in talks on cross-border trade in services aimed at enabling companies such as convenience store chains to do business more freely overseas.

But they may have to refer to the upcoming ministerial meeting such contentious fields as those of market access, which covers the issue of lifting tariffs and competition focusing on reforms of state-owned corporations.

In the market access field involving farm products, Japan is under pressure from most of its negotiating partners to lift tariffs on all agricultural and industrial products. Tokyo has said it will retain tariffs on five sensitive farm product categories — rice, wheat, beef and pork, dairy products and sugar — as exceptions.