Trans-Pacific talks stall

Stumbling blocks | Timeline for trade deal remains unclear

SINGAPORE (Reuters) — Ministers in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks have yet to reach agreement on tariffs and other market access issues, with the timing of a completed deal looking increasingly unclear. 


The 12 member countries, including Canada, announced Feb. 25 that they had made significant progress during four days of meetings in Singapore, but the talks ended with no clear indication of a time frame to clinch the TPP agreements. 


“Market access is in some respects the heart and soul of any trade agreement, so until that’s done, we don’t have an agreement,” said New Zealand trade minister Tim Groser. 


The deal aims to cut tariffs and set common standards on other trade issues across a dozen countries that cover almost 40 percent of the global economy. 


Long-running differences on tariffs of imported goods are proving difficult to overcome, particularly between the United States and Japan, which is keen to protect sensitive products such as rice, meat and wheat. 


Two sets of meetings between the Japanese and U.S. delegations during the talks produced no breakthrough. 


U.S. trade representative Michael Froman said market access for agriculture in Japan remained a significant issue but played down the idea that TPP talks might proceed without Japan, the second-biggest economy in the bloc. 


“All the countries around the table are focused on trying to get that deal done with all 12 countries as part of it,” he said. 


Sticking points over intellectual property and the rules for state-owned enterprises and government procurement are also proving difficult. 


“If you ask whether all outstanding issues have been resolved, it is also a common recognition that they still remain,” said Japanese economics minister Akira Amari.


Malaysian international trade and industry minister Mustapa Mohamed said participants were all showing flexibility, but some issues were tough to move on.


“There are things which can be done, there are others which cannot be done, and we’ve been telling our partners what is doable and what is not doable,” he said. 


There had been expectations that the deal could be concluded in time for U.S. president Barack Obama’s visit to Asia in April. 


However, it is unclear whether ministers will meet again before the trip. 


“We’ve made no further plans at this point in terms of the next meetings,” Froman said. 


The talks include the U.S., Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam, Chile, Mexico and Peru.

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