[A2k] FT: Pacific Rim trade talks make progress but no deal expected

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Mon Dec 9 13:06:43 PST 2013


December 9, 2013 12:00 pm

Pacific Rim trade talks make progress but no deal expected

By Shawn Donnan in Singapore

Ministers pursuing a 12-country Pacific Rim trade deal will signal they
have made good progress at the end of a crucial four-day meeting on Tuesday
but are likely to fall short of closing the deal.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is one of the main pillars of the Obama
administration’s second-term trade
and the US had aimed to reach a pact by the end of the year. However, talks
have been slowed by the US budget impasse this year that forced President
Barack Obama to cancel a trip to Asia and tough negotiations with Japan,
which only joined the talks in July.

If and when it is completed the TPP will be the biggest regional
deal<http://www.ft.com/topics/themes/Global_Trade>ever signed,
including countries that account for more than a third of the
global economy.

Indications are that ministers are closer to a deal and have started
identifying broad potential compromises on contentious issues including
intellectual property rights and the treatment of state-owned enterprises.

“We are in the final stages of the negotiations. It’s the duration of the
final stage that I can’t tell you,” one senior official involved in the
talks told the Financial Times. “We didn’t come here just to restate – or
rephrase – what we have been saying for the last few months. I’ve seen
everyone here with a real problem-solving attitude.”

Many observers believe negotiations will wrap up in the first few months of
2014 and would be closed either shortly before, or during an April visit to
Asia by Mr Obama.

According to people close to the talks, they now hinge on a balance between
how much access the biggest economies in the TPP – the US and Japan – will
give to each other and other TPP members.

Japan has nominated five agricultural product areas including rice and beef
as “sacred” and vowed to continue protecting them while the US is seeking a
wholesale opening up of the Japanese market. Other countries including
Australia are keen, however, for the US to do more to open up sensitive
parts of its agricultural market, including sugar.

Michael Froman, the US trade representative, and Yasutoshi Nishimura, his
Japanese counterpart at the talks, held bilateral meetings again on Monday
and Japanese media reported they were yet to strike a deal. Mr Nishimura
told reporters on the way into the meeting that the US needed to
demonstrate more “flexibility”.

Those decisions would set the tone for what compromises on contentious
issues such as intellectual property rights and the treatment of
state-owned enterprises that other countries are prepared to make.

“Japan is at the centre of any of the market negotiations. For everyone it
is the number one priority,” said a senior official involved in the talks.

The TPP negotiations come days after the World Trade Organisation signed
the first global deal in its 18-year
a move hailed as injecting new life into multilateral trade agenda.
Regional trade negotiations like those under way to reach a TPP are seen as
a rival to the 159-member WTO, which for years has been struggling to
update the rules of global trade.

But the TPP talks are facing growing scrutiny from activists, who rail
against the secrecy surrounding the negotiations.

The Huffington Post and WikiLeaks on Monday published leaked
including a spreadsheet that detailed one country’s read of the
negotiating positions adopted by all sides ahead of the Singapore meeting.
A separate briefing
paper<http://big.assets.huffingtonpost.com/1294_001.pdf>on the issues
spoke of “great pressure” being applied by the US to close a

The leaked documents showed the US taking a firm stand on copyright and
patent issues related to medicines. The US is advocating for the
establishment of an investor-state dispute settlement tribunal which would
allow companies to challenge governments directly for not living up to the
terms of a TPP deal, according to the documents.

The US position on those and many other issues is well known. But the
leaked documents showed that Washington was facing opposition from most of
the other countries on a number of points. The question is whether that
opposition is firm or amounts to negotiating positions that other countries
will be willing to walk away from in exchange for greater access to the US
and Japanese markets.

Besides the US the TPP countries are: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile,
Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Singapore, New Zealand and Vietnam.

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