WAIKOLOA, HAWAII - Chief negotiators from countries involved in a Pacific Rim free trade initiative resumed talks Monday in Hawaii, as the 12 negotiating members attempt to reach a deal by the end of spring.
As the United States, which leads the framework, will enter full-fledged campaign mode later this year for the 2016 presidential election, May is seen as an effective deadline for concluding the five-year-old Trans-Pacific Partnership talks. But gaps still remain over contentious issues, including intellectual property and establishing unified rules for fair business competition.
The prospect is uncertain also due to little progress made during recent bilateral negotiations between Japan and the United States — the two largest economies in the TPP — as well as the delay in debating a bill to grant President Barack Obama fast-track authority to sign trade deals.
Koji Tsuruoka, Japan’s chief TPP negotiator, told reporters before departing for Hawaii last week that prolonged U.S. debate on the so-called Trade Promotion Authority “cannot help but affect the overall negotiations,” suggesting progress may be limited during the Hawaii meeting.
If the U.S. president is given TPA, the government will only need to ask Congress whether it backs a deal in its entirety without revision, meaning trade partners can be assured U.S. lawmakers will not demand amendments to the agreement contents.
The other TPP countries are keeping an eye on what happens with the TPA bill before making major concessions on their sensitive issues, negotiation sources say.
During a week-long session in Hawaii, the chief negotiators will also engage in bilateral talks on remaining issues, including tariffs, on the sidelines of the plenary session.
Japan and the United States are expected to resume working-level talks on market access for agricultural products, the most contentious issue between the two.
The other 10 TPP negotiating members are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Singapore, Peru and Vietnam.