Ongoing negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement are no longer expected to conclude before April.
Japan and the United States had hoped the 12-member TPP talks would conclude as early as March, assuming the two countries could clinch an accord at a bilateral meeting in late February or early March.
The delay reflects slow progress in U.S. congressional procedures to grant President Barack Obama trade promotion authority, which would give him significant power to negotiate trade deals and is considered crucial for early ratification of an eventual TPP accord. The U.S. Congress has yet to take up legislation on such powers.
At a news conference Friday, TPP minister Akira Amari admitted that a final accord may come later than early spring, as previously scheduled. According sources close to the TPP talks, a ministerial meeting of the 12 countries toward a possible accord could come in mid-April at the earliest.
In light of the dimming prospect of an early conclusion, some negotiators are now worried that the solidarity to strive for an accord among the 12 nations may weaken. Indeed, the United States and emerging economies in the talks remain wide apart over issues such as intellectual property rights, while some members have tried to revive discussions over issues that have been almost agreed upon, according to the sources.
Chief TPP negotiators are set to meet in Hawaii from March 9 to 15. The United States and Japan, the two countries seen holding the key to the success of the talks, are hoping to hold a bilateral working-level meeting ahead of that. With the United States showing few signs of concessions over some tricky issues, however, it is “hard to imagine significant progress,” one source said.