Chief negotiators from 12 countries involved in a Pacific free trade initiative resumed negotiations Sunday in Washington, after their leaders last month reaffirmed their commitment to concluding an agreement as soon as possible.
The six-day working-level meeting follows a summit of the Trans-Pacific Partnership countries held on Nov. 10 in Beijing, where U.S. President Barack Obama, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and 10 other leaders instructed officials and ministers to make concluding a TPP deal “a top priority.”
The United States, which leads the free trade scheme, seeks to reach a broad agreement in early 2015 before it enters campaign mode toward the presidential election in 2016, according to negotiation sources. But the outlook for the prolonged talks remains uncertain.
Koji Tsuruoka, Japan’s top negotiator for the TPP, told reporters Sunday at a hotel in the U.S. capital that this week’s negotiation is “a very important round” that could decide the fate of the TPP.
If TPP officials fail to see a broad direction toward the conclusion this week the whole negotiation could reach the brink of collapse, Tsuruoka suggested.
The TPP countries are expected to discuss outstanding issues such as intellectual property and reform of state-owned firms to establish fair business competition — areas where developed and emerging economies have been at odds.
Trade officials from Japan and the United States, the largest economies in the initiative, plan to hold bilateral talks on thorny issues such as Japan’s proposed exceptional tariffs on some agricultural produce.