U.S. Claims Progress on Trans-Pacific Talks
The latest round of negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free trade agreement among 12 Asia-Pacific countries, wrapped up this week in Vietnam. While the U.S. claimed continued progress, others question whether the Obama administration’s unofficial goal of concluding a basic deal by the end of 2014 will be met.
The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative said the ten days of negotiations in Hanoi made “important progress across a range of issues,” including state-owned enterprises, intellectual property, investment, rules of origin, transparency and anti-corruption, and labor. Negotiators also “successfully resolved many issues and narrowed gaps in other areas” and “continued to move forward with their work to construct ambitious packages for preferential access to each other’s markets for goods, services/investment, financial services, and government procurement.” USTR added that participants “share a commitment to resolve the remaining issues as quickly as possible” and that toward this end USTR Mike Froman “will work bilaterally with many of his TPP counterparts in the coming weeks.” No date or location has yet been set for the next round of talks.
However, one of the key factors to the success of the TPP negotiations is the ability of the U.S. and Japan to reach a bilateral agreement on lowering Tokyo’s barriers to automobiles and agricultural goods, and press reports indicate that the two sides are no closer to a solution on these highly sensitive issues following negotiations earlier this month. Japanese officials continue to maintain that the auto talks are in “the final phase” but said the agricultural talks “were not able to make as much progress as we had expected” and that “considerable gaps” remain.