• Kyodo

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okyo/Washington

Ministers from 12 Pacific Rim countries will meet in late September in Atlanta as they look to conclude years of negotiations on creating one of the world’s biggest free-trade zones, negotiation sources said Thursday.

A meeting of chief negotiators from the United States, Japan, Canada and nine other member countries involved in the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership talks will begin from Sept. 26, followed by a two-day meeting of ministers from Sept. 30, one of the sources said.

Negotiators see the need for striking a deal ahead of the Oct. 19 general election in Canada and before the national focus in the United States shifts later this year to the 2016 presidential election. These two events will make it increasingly hard for politicians there to concentrate on TPP, political analysts said.

U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday raised hopes that the 12 countries could conclude the sweeping free trade agreement “in the next several weeks” through another round of ministerial talks.

“The trade ministers should be meeting again sometime in the next several weeks. They have the opportunity to close the deal,” Obama told a meeting with business leaders in Washington. He said he was “confident” that the member countries can get TPP done this year.

The Obama administration has called the deal a key element of its pivot toward the Asia-Pacific region. It would cover some 40 percent of the global economy, with the United States and Japan accounting for about 80 percent of gross domestic product in the bloc.

Ministers from the 12 countries failed to reach a broad agreement on the initiative during talks in Hawaii in late July.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said recently it would take only one more ministerial meeting to conclude the TPP negotiations, but it remains uncertain whether some countries will be able to bridge gaps on issues such as how long new drug data should be protected.

The United States, Japan, Canada and Mexico held a series of meetings on TPP-related issues such as automotive trade last week in Washington.

The four countries, however, failed to see a clear path to concluding the overall TPP talks anytime soon, said Takeo Mori, a senior Foreign Ministry official who represented Japan in the four-way meeting.

The original TPP negotiations were launched in 2010 and involved the United States, Australia, Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. Malaysia, Mexico, Canada and Japan joined the talks later.

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