NUSA DUA, INDONESIA – Leaders of the 12 countries involved in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade negotiations are planning to issue a statement next week confirming they have substantively completed their work on the envisioned pact and will ensure it is a high quality 21st century accord, according to negotiation sources.
While the leaders are set to reiterate their pledge to conclude the negotiations within the year at the TPP summit in Bali, Indonesia, on Tuesday, they are not expected to touch on tariff eliminations during the meeting or mention their target percentage in the one-page statement.
Chief negotiators concluded their two-day meeting Wednesday agreeing on a plan for finishing working group negotiations this year, while handing over the more contentious issues for political guidance at a higher level.
TPP ministers started their meeting Thursday and are scheduled to continue talks Friday and Sunday in the lead-up to the summit to make decisions on difficult issues, including tariff elimination and intellectual property protection.
“While the time is limited, we hope to close our gaps (through bilateral talks) and summarize the talks so we can give them to the leaders,” TPP minister Akira Amari told reporters after the first day of the ministerial meeting, chaired by U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman.
Japan has been keen to negotiate the tariffs issue as it is facing strong domestic pressure to retain levies on rice, dairy products, sugar and other sensitive agricultural products to protect them from a possible influx of cheap imports under the TPP.
“By giving consideration to each country’s sensitivities, we will aim for a balanced, ambitious outcome,” Amari said.
TPP members have so far finished negotiations on six or seven of the 29 chapters of the envisioned pact, including those on small and medium-size enterprises, regulatory coherence, competition and business facilitation, according to the sources.
Among the issues that are also making progress, the TPP members are now planning not to ban fishing subsidies except those that obviously lead to overfishing, negotiation sources said.
The United States has been calling for a general ban on fishing subsidies, but with many countries disagreeing, the members are arranging a limited ban proposed by Japan, the sources said.
As Japan provides fishing subsidies totaling ¥140 billion annually, partially to organize and maintain ports and fishing boats, it feared a general subsidy ban will hinder its rebuilding efforts following the massive earthquake and tsunami that devastated parts of the Tohoku region in 2011.
Australia and New Zealand have supported the U.S. proposal, but Canada, which presides over the working group on the environment that deals with fishing subsidies, has proposed a partial ban on subsidies that are clearly linked to overfishing.
Amari also held bilateral chats with his counterparts from the U.S. New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia, Peru, Australia and Canada.
Following the bilateral session with Japan, New Zealand Trade Minister Tim Groser said, “There’s a whole range of issues and everyone understands that every country has got its own difficulties and we’re trying to work our way through them.”
To move the talks forward, the TPP ministers are expected to instruct chief negotiators to conclude working-level talks on e-commerce and other fields that are less contentious.
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