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Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks a milestone: Crean

Sydney Morning Herald, Australia

Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks a milestone: Crean

15 March 2010

AAP. The first step to an Asia-Pacific-wide trade pact will be taken on Monday, with officials from eight nations meeting in Melbourne.

Trade Minister Simon Crean says the first round of negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a major milestone, as the agreement would pave the way to the long-term goal of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group (APEC) - a region-wide free trade zone.

US President Barack Obama last year threw his support behind the plan, telling an audience in Japan that the Asia-Pacific was key to future US trade, and billing himself as "America’s first Pacific president".

Mr Crean welcomed the involvement of the US.

"The TPP will be an ambitious, 21st century agreement that will strengthen economic integration in the region," he said.

"The participation of the US is an important signal of the Obama administration’s commitment to the region, and an encouraging sign of broader US engagement on trade policy issues."

Besides Australia and the US, the TPP’s other parties are New Zealand, Singapore, Chile, Brunei, Peru and Vietnam.

Collectively, they have a population of 470 million and a GDP of $17.7 trillion.

Negotiators will focus on obstacles facing emerging sectors in the region, including services, e-commerce and green technology.

There will be four negotiating rounds per year, with the next round tentatively scheduled for June.

Senior representatives from each of the eight countries will lead the talks in Melbourne, which will continue until Friday.

Meanwhile, the next round of negotiations on a free trade agreement with Korea will also start on Monday, with Australia to push access on agriculture and services.

Australia is negotiating free trade agreements (FTAs) in North Asia with our three biggest export markets, China, Japan and Korea, and of those, negotiations are progressing fastest with Korea.

Mr Crean said the talks in Seoul would strive for a high quality FTA with one of the world’s major economies.

"There are hard negotiations ahead but the progress so far has been very encouraging," Mr Crean said in a statement.

A 2005 study found a full FTA between the two nations would boost the Australian economy by $30 billion, and the Korean economy by $39 billion, over 14 years.

The talks are the fourth round of negotiations since they began in March 2009, and are scheduled to run until Thursday.