Leaders of countries in a U.S.-led Pacific free trade initiative said Monday they now have a clearer vision for completing their talks, but they did not fix a fresh time frame for a deal after it became unrealistic to strike a deal by the end of the year as originally proposed by Washington.
The end of the talks is “coming into focus,” U.S. President Barack Obama, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and 10 other leaders said in a joint statement released after a summit.
The leaders “welcome the significant progress in recent months” that sets the stage for a Trans-Pacific Partnership deal, the statement said, adding “continued engagement will be critical.”
A negotiation source said officials may meet again in December or January to further accelerate talks before the United States enters campaign mode toward the presidential vote in 2016.
The source has said the United States proposed the 12 countries aim to secure a deal by early February during a trade chiefs’ meeting held prior to the summit. But the leaders did not mention any timeline in the joint statement amid reluctance expressed by some economies.
“This is not an agreement that is about to get signed. This will take a period of time to finish off some of the difficult issues,” one U.S. official said.
The TPP countries have struggled to reach an agreement due partly to differences between Japan and the United States — the biggest economies in the framework — over market access for agricultural products and autos.