The United States and Japan are likely to resolve bilateral issues in order to strike a deal on the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) at a multilateral ministerial meeting to be held in July, a senior Japanese official said on Friday.
The TPP brings 12 nations from around the Pacific - the United States, Japan, Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, Peru, Chile, and Brunei - which make about 40 percent of the world economy.
The United States and Japan, the world’s largest and third largest economies respectively, are the largest economies involved in the TPP. The partnership is vital to US President Barack Obama’s strategic vision to counterbalance China’s increasing significance in the world economy.
The politically sensitive issues such as access to Japan’s market for farm products including rice and the US market for auto parts remain to be resolved, but they are not likely to cause major delays, the official told Reuters.
“It is not anticipated that these remaining issues will be stumbling blocks for a US-Japan agreement,” the official said.
The official added that “We are confident we will be able to resolve them in time for concluding TPP negotiations overall.”
The US Senate approved a legislation on Wednesday giving Obama so called “fast-track” authorities to negotiate international trade deals which would open the way to finalise the TPP.
The bill dubbed the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) cleared the Senate with a 60-38 vote after almost two months of congressional battles and setbacks, and now goes to Obama’s desk for his signature.
With fast-track authority, Obama will have the power to negotiate the TPP without the risk of congressional amendments after signing, as the TPA restricts the Congress’ input to a yes-or-no vote on the agreement.
Before making final offers on the TPP, some of the 12 countries involved in the negotiations - including Japan - had wanted fast-track to be approved. The Japanese official did not elaborate on the details of the negotiations.
One of the important issues in the multilateral TPP deal is that of intellectual property protection, including for newly-developed drugs. The partnership would lower trade barriers and harmonise rules and standards among the 12 nations expected to sign the TPP.
“If not conducted satisfactorily, it could very well be a reason for the US Congress to reject TPP. So it is a prerequisite for a TPP agreement to include high standard protection for new drugs,” the Japanese official told Reuters.
The official believed Japan and the US could come to an agreement as long as both parties put in the time and effort needed for success.
“I don’t think any remaining issues cannot be resolved if there is sufficient political attention and input required to solve these in time for the ministerial meeting that we expect to be held before the end of July,” he said.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in his speech to the US Congress on April 29, said the pact would result in a market that is “fair, dynamic, sustainable, and is also free from the arbitrary intentions of any nation.”
Obama, in a press conference on April 28, addressed concerns and criticisms against the TPP but firmly stated his support for the agreement.
“This will end up being the most progressive bill in history. It will have the kinds of labor and environmental and human rights protections that have been absent in previous agreements. It’s going to be enforceable. It’s going to open markets that currently are not fully open to US businesses. It’s going to be good for the US economy,” Obama said.
If the 12 countries agree on the TPP in late July or early August, the US Congress could possibly vote for it as early as the first half of December. Like the United States, other countries also have to gain approval from their respective lawmakers.