SINGAPORE – Ministers from the 12 countries trying to hammer out the Trans-Pacific Partnership fell short of setting a clear timeline for ending the negotiations as they wrapped up a two-day meeting Tuesday in Singapore, although they stressed that progress was made on tariff issues.
“We cemented our shared views on what is needed to bring negotiations to a close,” the ministers said in a joint statement following the meeting.
They decided that the chief negotiators from the member countries will meet in July to further accelerate talks.
U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said at a joint news conference that the ministers felt a “positive sense of momentum,” and that progress recently made by Japan and the United States on thorny bilateral issues allowed TPP member countries to “enter a new phase of negotiations.”
However, Froman also said problems still need to be resolved before an agreement is reached. Japanese negotiators will travel to Washington next week to resume bilateral talks, he said.
Asked to clarify what progress was made in Singapore, Froman said, “It’s difficult to quantify.”
The latest round of negotiations came after Japan and the United States — the biggest economies in the TPP — marked progress during their marathon bilateral talks held in April in Tokyo.
The 12 nations held a series of bilateral talks on the sidelines of a plenary session, but most of the time was spent in reviewing how much headway Japan and the United States have made on the contentious issues of market access for farm products and automobiles.
Akira Amari, Japan’s minister in charge of the TPP, expressed a cautiously optimistic view about the speedy conclusion of the talks, saying that the ministers now see “pathways much clearer,” and that “the fog is starting to clear up.”
Meanwhile, Malaysian International Trade and Industry Minister Mustapa Mohamed said the progress that has been made so far is “not entirely satisfactory,” suggesting that there remain issues including intellectual property rights and the reform of state-owned firms, the areas in which emerging Asian economies are in conflict with developed countries.
The 12 TPP countries, which also include Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile and New Zealand, initially sought to strike a deal by the end of 2013 but missed that deadline due mainly to Japan-U.S. bickering.
The TPP would create a massive free trade area bordering the Pacific, accounting for roughly 40 percent of global GDP and one-third of all world trade.