Mainichi Daily News, Japan
TPP countries set to announce broad outline of Trans-Pacific FTA this week
11 November 2011
HONOLULU (Kyodo) — Trade ministers from nine countries agreed Thursday to forge the broad outline of an expanded Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement this week.
"They set the goal of reaching the broad outlines of an agreement by this week’s APEC meeting," the Office of the United States Trade Representative said on its website soon after the meeting that was held on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum ministerial and summit meetings here.
It affirms their plan in Big Sky, Montana, when the trade ministers had expressed their "goal of reaching the broad outlines" of an agreement by November.
The meeting of TPP trade ministers on Thursday was held ahead of Saturday’s summit of leaders from nine countries, including the United States, that are negotiating for a high-standard, ambitious, 21st-century trade pact.
The United States had high hopes earlier this year of concluding the agreement by the time it hosts this month’s APEC summit, but negotiations among the nine countries have been bogged down by sensitive sectors that some are reluctant to open up.
As a result, officials have said that only a "broad outline" of the TPP is expected to be announced by the leaders at this meeting, and the full agreement is expected to be wrapped up only sometime next year, the sources said.
"We have to thresh out some sensitive issues but the negotiations are getting tougher now," said an official source from an Asian country.
The main text of the agreement is being negotiated multilaterally while the tariff cuts are being carried out in an arduous bilateral process.
The most difficult sectors include labor, intellectual property rights and government procurement.
The countries involved in the negotiations are Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.
The U.S. decision to join the TPP has raised the TPP’s profile and attracted more countries to join, with an eye on the huge and lucrative U.S. market.
Japan has recently indicated its interest in the TPP and is expected to soon announce a decision to join their negotiations.
However, there is concern among some TPP countries that Japan’s participation will hinder and delay the TPP’s conclusion further.
More than 20 working groups have been set up to negotiate sectors such as market access, government procurement, competition, intellectual property and labor issues, and nine rounds of negotiations have been held since March last year.