Business / Economy

TPP ministers say year-end deal unlikely but agree to speed up talks

Kyodo

Trade chiefs involved in a Pacific Rim free trade initiative failed to clear a path for concluding a deal by the end of the year as proposed by the United States, but they agreed to accelerate their talks as much as possible, a Cabinet minister said Saturday.

U.S. President Barack Obama had hoped to have a substantial outcome in time for his trip to Beijing for an Asia-Pacific leaders’ summit starting Monday, but that goal is now “hard” to achieve, Akira Amari, minister in charge of the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks, told reporters after 12 TPP trade chiefs met in the Chinese capital.

The ministers fell short of sharing a clear vision of when they will be able to end their talks that have entered the fifth year, but “we did agree on the need to accelerate negotiations” given a tight political schedule in the United States — which leads the TPP — toward the presidential election in 2016, Amari added.

The ministers will report the current situation of the negotiations to their leaders, who are slated to meet Monday on the margins of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

Although no agreement is expected this time around, Amari also said there has been “big progress” in the past few weeks and “momentum is picking up” in negotiations.

The TPP countries have struggled to secure a deal due partly to Japan-U.S. differences over market access for agricultural and auto products, while the process of establishing unified trade rules among all 12 economies in such areas as intellectual property rights, business competition and environmental protection issues have also proven to be difficult.

The TPP negotiating countries are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.

The TPP ministers met at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. They did not hold a joint press conference apparently out of consideration for China, which is hosting this year’s APEC forum and is anxious that the spotlight may be shed on the TPP rather than the series of APEC meetings.