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TPP states push to activate pact without U.S. as soon as next week

Kyodo

The 11 remaining signatories to the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact are making progress toward an agreement on implementing it without the United States, probably next week, but work still needs to be done, according to the chief Japanese negotiator.

“There is a growing momentum to reach common ground and produce a good outcome,” Kazuyoshi Umemoto told reporters Wednesday evening as chief negotiators for the 11 states wrapped up their three-day session near Tokyo, with a view to striking a deal on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation ministerial meeting and summit in Vietnam due to start Wednesday.

The negotiators worked on narrowing down the list of clauses that will be suspended until such time as Washington might return to the deal, so that the 11 states’ ministers and leaders can make political decisions to finalize the now 11-party pact, Umemoto said.

New Zealand, taking part for the first time since a change of government, expressed its ongoing commitment to the 11-party pact. The 10 other countries had expressed concern ahead of the session that Wellington may make a new request to amend the original TPP text, a negotiation source said.

New Zealand’s new prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, who took office last week, had said she was prepared to renegotiate the pact in view of her Labour Party’s policy of banning foreign investors from buying existing homes in her country.

But apparently taking into consideration lobbying by the domestic dairy industry group to stay in the pact, Ardern said Tuesday her government will seek to prevent foreigners from buying them through domestic legislation, without impacting the TPP agreement.

At the same time, Ardern said she does intend to seek a review of the inclusion of an investor-state dispute settlement system in the TPP, which would give a foreign company the right to sue a state for compensation under an international tribunal.

Umemoto said that although there has been no great change in New Zealand’s attitude, he cannot rule out the possibility that the country may make a new request.

The TPP was signed in February 2016 by all 12 countries. The United States withdrew following the inauguration of President Donald Trump in January this year.

Regarding temporary suspensions of some clauses of the original text, Japan aims to make minimal changes to the pact to preserve its “high-level standard,” in the hope that the United States will eventually return to the pact.

Clauses where agreement has been reached on temporary suspension include an eight-year data exclusivity period for biologic pharmaceutical patents and the extension of intellectual property rights, the source said.

Vietnam remains unsatisfied with rules of origin that restrict the scope of apparel products subject to tariff cuts and elimination, although it had agreed to them in return for access to the large U.S. market, the source added.

The 11 TPP countries are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. With the United States, the Pacific Rim trade pact had covered around 40 percent of the global economy.