Senior officials from 12 countries involved in the Pacific Rim free trade initiative began a fresh round of negotiations in Hanoi on Monday, aiming to clear a path for a broad agreement within this year.
But it is uncertain how much closer they can move over contentious issues, official sources say, as not a few issues remain to be resolved, while Japan and the United States — the biggest economies in the Trans-Pacific Partnership — have yet to secure a bilateral deal seen as key to advancing the broad negotiations.
The United States, which leads the TPP, is seeking to see a significant outcome in time for President Barack Obama’s Asia trip in November, when a summit meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum is scheduled for Beijing.
Critics doubt if the blueprint is achievable, however, given the U.S. midterm elections in November that would make it hard for Washington to make tricky political decisions over outstanding issues.
During the 10-day working-level meeting in the Vietnamese capital, the 12 TPP negotiating countries will focus on three difficult areas — intellectual property rights, the environment and reform of state-owned firms — while also engaging in bilateral talks on tariff-cutting issues, according to a Japanese government official.
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