• Kyodo

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Trade ministers from 12 countries continued negotiations on the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership on Thursday, with outstanding issues proving to be more difficult than expected.

Ministers were hoping to announce the outcome of the talks at a joint news conference planned for Friday afternoon following the four-day meeting. But the participating countries are still at odds over intellectual property, liberalization of dairy products and tariffs, among other issues.

Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister Akira Amari, who is in charge of the country’s talks concerning TPP, told reporters that the start of Thursday’s plenary session was pushed back a few hours due to a conflict among negotiators of each country over the issue of monopolies on pharmaceuticals, seen as the biggest sticking point.

Amari said negotiators were expected to continue discussions “all (Thursday) night” to “make it the final ministerial meeting.” But he reiterated that he is not sure whether there would be a breakthrough.

The 12 TPP countries — Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam — are aiming to reach a broad agreement during the talks, held on the Hawaiian island of Maui.

Various bilateral meetings also took place on the sidelines of the plenary session. Officials from Japan and the United States, the largest economies accounting for some 80 percent of gross domestic product in the TPP framework, resumed their talks Thursday.

Negotiation sources said that Japan is expected to accept a tariff reduction on imports of wheat under the TPP amid persistent calls from the United States and others to open up its protected agricultural market.

The central government, which controls wheat imports, is planning to cut by around half the import markup on wheat — the margin levied on flour millers and others when the government resells the product to them which is seen as effective tariffs.

Wheat is one of Japan’s five farm product categories that it sees as off-limits.

The TPP, if realized, would be the most ambitious free trade zone in a generation, covering some 40 percent of global output.

China, which is increasing its influence in the fast-growing Asia-Pacific region, is not a member.

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