Talks for a Pacific Rim free trade pact got into full swing Saturday, with chief negotiators from the 12 countries involved joining working-level discussions that started earlier.
“This is a crucial meeting” to cut a deal on the Trans-Pacific Partnership initiative toward the end of the year, Koji Tsuruoka, Japan’s top TPP negotiator, said prior to meeting with his counterparts. “We hope to make progress on remaining issues and move toward a ministerial meeting.”
The chief negotiators’ talks are part of the unusually long 10-day officials’ meeting that started Thursday, following U.S. President Barack Obama’s call for an agreement on the framework by November.
According to participants, the chief negotiators discussed legal and institutional matters as well as labor, and made some progress on forging a framework for curbing serious labor problems.
A ministerial gathering, which usually follows working-level talks, is not being scheduled on the margin of the session in Ottawa. It is as yet unknown whether a ministerial meeting, at which trade chiefs could make final political decisions to seal a pact, will take place later somewhere else.
TPP talks have been delayed partly due to Japan-U.S. bickering over tariff issues. If successfully realized, the TPP would create a massive free trade area bordering the Pacific, making up roughly 40 percent of global gross domestic product and one-third of all world trade.
The TPP involves Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.