No Clear Finish Line in Sight for TPP Talks
The latest round of negotiations toward a Trans-Pacific Partnership concluded Feb. 25 in Singapore with the 12 participating countries reporting “further strides toward a final agreement.” A joint statement said participants “agreed on the majority of the landing zones,” have “charted a path forward” to resolve the issues that remain, and are committed to concluding the talks “as soon as possible.” The statement indicated progress on market access, which it called “an important part of [the] remaining work,” but said continued efforts will be needed to obtain an “ambitious package across all market access areas.”
While differences remain on issues such as intellectual property rights, government procurement and state-owned enterprises, press reports indicate that one of the obstacles to finalizing the TPP is a stalemate between the U.S. and Japan over lowering Japan’s import tariffs on hundreds of items in five agricultural product categories: rice, dairy, beef and pork, sugar and wheat. The two nations were unable to make a breakthrough on this issue either at a bilateral meeting in Washington just prior to the Singapore negotiations or at the TPP talks themselves, and political pressure from key constituencies on both sides has meant that neither is yet willing to give any ground on its demands. Some press reports indicate that the U.S. may be considering a proposal to drop Japan from the negotiations if the impasse continues.
There has been no indication as to when the next round will be held, though one article speculated that it could take place in China in May on the sidelines of a meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. It therefore appears unlikely that negotiations will conclude, as some had hoped, by the time President Obama visits several Asian countries in April.