• Kyodo, Reuters

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Economic and fiscal policy minister Akira Amari admitted Friday it will be difficult to reconvene a meeting of trade ministers on the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade initiative by the end of August as had been initially planned.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, meanwhile, expressed confidence the countries negotiating the 12-country Pacific Rim framework can reach a broad agreement the next time the ministers meet, telling the Diet an accord will be in Japan’s national interest.

“We cannot hold the next ministerial meeting unless we have certainty about reaching an agreement,” Amari, who is in charge of the TPP talks for Japan, said at a press conference. “So I think (setting a date) in August would be quite difficult.”

After the TPP ministers ended their four-day meeting in Hawaii without an agreement, Amari had said another ministerial session was eyed for late August.

The TPP countries have sought to strike a final agreement by the end of the year, before the United States, which leads the initiative, enters full-fledged campaigning for the 2016 presidential election.

But that goal is looking increasingly uncertain, with differences still remaining over contentious issues including liberalization of dairy products and intellectual property rights.

Speaking before the House of Representatives Budget Committee, Abe said a TPP deal can be reached “with one more ministerial meeting.”

The government will “do (its) utmost to realize the national interest as much as possible and secure a deal that will be able to obtain approval from the Diet at an early date,” Abe said.

Also on Friday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry expressed confidence that the ambitious Pacific trade pact could be completed this year.

Kerry said many challenges to thrash out a deal remained, but the United States would do everything in its power to make it happen.

Kerry likened the TPP talks to a deal negotiated over 18 months between Iran and six other countries to lift sanctions in return for curbs on a nuclear program Iran insists is for peaceful purposes.

“When you get 12 nations together, it’s very complicated. I will tell you that having just negotiated with Iran . . . there were six of us all with expertise, all with our own opinions and we had to come together in order to agree on what we would then negotiate with Iran.

“This is the same thing,” he said .

The TPP would connect the 12 economies by cutting trade barriers and harmonizing standards covering two-fifths of the world economy and a third of global trade.

TPP trade ministers discussing the pact, which would stretch from Japan to Chile, have said an agreement is within reach, despite the failure last week to settle differences at talks in Hawaii.

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