SINGAPORE – Japan and the United States resumed discussions over outstanding bilateral issues related to Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement Monday in Singapore, where trade ministers from the 12 negotiating members were gathering to seek further progress.
The ministers, however, were not expected to announce a broad agreement on the TPP at end of the two-day meeting.
Instead, the event is aimed at “accelerating bilateral talks with each country and evaluating progress made so far,” Akira Amari, Japan’s minister in charge of TPP negotiations, told reporters before entering into talks with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman on the sidelines of a TPP plenary meeting.
“It’s important to have a sense of urgency” to strike a broad agreement, “so (the TPP) won’t be left with nowhere to go,” Amari said.
Amari and Froman met for the first time since they held marathon talks in April, when the two sides moved closer over how to deal with Japanese tariffs on key farm products and U.S. auto tariffs, the biggest sticking points.
Japan was also set to hold bilateral meetings with six additional countries including Singapore, according to government officials.
Amid the deadlock between the United States and Japan, the biggest economies in the TPP, the 10 other countries (including Australia, Chile, Malaysia and New Zealand) are keen to evaluate the extent of progress Tokyo and Washington made in April.
Sources familiar with the negotiations said the other TPP members could move forward on sensitive issues of their own, after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Barack Obama said in a joint statement after their April 24 summit that the two-way talks marked a “key milestone.”
But Japanese tariffs on beef and pork, one of the five categories of agricultural products that Tokyo has designated as sensitive, remain a hurdle for talks with Washington.
Amari said earlier that the U.S. and Japan had agreed on a “formula” with which they can seal a bilateral deal on the remaining issues, but details had yet to be decided.
Washington has called for tariffs on beef and pork to be drastically cut, while Tokyo wants to introduce safeguard measures on imports of those products, should they surge under the TPP.
But the two sides are struggling to find common ground on how those tariff-cutting and safeguard measures should be combined, the sources said.
Trade representatives from all 12 countries are expected try to narrow their differences on other thorny issues, including intellectual property rights and reform of state-owned firms — areas in which emerging Asian economies such as Malaysia and Vietnam are in confrontation with developed countries.
The latest session of negotiations comes after the TPP countries failed to reach a broad agreement at a ministerial meeting in February in Singapore, due mainly to Japan-U.S. bickering.
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