KOTA KINABALU, MALAYSIA – The 18th round of the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade negotiations began Monday in Malaysia as Japan prepares to make its debut near the end of the 11-day conference.
Japan won’t enter the talks until July 23, when the United States, the leading economy in the TPP, completes its 90-day waiting period for notifying Congress that it intends to open trade negotiations with Japan.
The session involving the working group on market access covering tariff elimination — a crucial issue for Tokyo — is expected to conclude before Japan gets to the bargaining table, four months after announcing its intention to enter the talks.
But July 25, the last day of the round in the Malaysian resort of Kota Kinabalu, will be devoted to Japan, with top negotiators from other TPP countries giving the country updates on the status of the negotiations, which are now in their fourth year. This will likely give Japan a chance to state its position.
With Japan’s participation, the TPP countries would account for nearly 40 percent of global GDP and about a third of all world trade, even without China as a member.
Japan is aiming to retain its tariffs on such key farm products as rice and beef, while eliminating import duties on Japanese automobiles and other manufactured goods.
The TPP negotiations comprise 21 working groups on 29 chapters, including investment and government procurement.
Malaysia recently released a brief document on the TPP stating that “negotiations on technical and less contentious issues are considered substantially closed” in 14 of the 29 chapters, while “there are still outstanding issues that are sensitive and will require discussion at a later stage of the negotiations.”
Member countries are trying to hammer out a basic agreement by October and to conclude a deal by the end of the year, although some speculate the talks could fall behind schedule.
Since each member has sensitive sectors, the negotiations are likely to become more difficult as they progress.
Japan’s belated entry could also complicate the talks, because it is seeking to keep some farm products exempt from the free-trade pact’s ideal of total tariff elimination.