SYDNEY – Japan and the United States failed to reach a much-awaited breakthrough, seen as vital to advancing the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, at a three-day meeting on the proposed trade accord that wrapped in Sydney on Monday.
The lack of progress between the largest TPP economies clouds the goal of striking a broad deal by the end of the year, as proposed by the United States.
After meeting with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman on Monday morning on the margin of the plenary session, TPP minister Akira Amari said the finish line for their bilateral talks is not yet in sight.
“The problems left are extremely difficult and we cannot solve them easily,” Amari told reporters, adding that he plans to resume talks with Froman when the 12 ministers meet again.
Asked whether a TPP summit meeting will take place in Beijing, on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in November, Amari said nothing has been discussed yet.
U.S. President Barack Obama said earlier he wanted a document on the proposed Pacific-Rim trade initiative adopted in time for his trip to the Chinese capital next month.
However, bickering between Japan and the United States over tariffs and auto trade issues has been one of the biggest sticking points in the ongoing negotiations for the TPP, which would encompass some 40 percent of global output if a deal is struck.
The two countries have long been at odds over Japanese tariffs on politically sensitive farm products — rice, wheat, beef and pork, dairy and sugar — and safeguard measures Tokyo seeks to introduce on beef and pork should their imports surge under a TPP agreement. They have also struggled to find common ground on auto trade issues.
Despite the differences confronting Japan and the U.S., trade ministers at the Sydney meeting said the talks were fruitful.
“We have made significant progress” on tariffs and unified trade rules, they said in a joint statement issued after their first gathering since May.
The TPP deal is “crystallizing,” the statement said, adding that they will “meet again in the coming weeks.”
The TPP talks, which are in their fifth year, involve Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.