UPDATE 2-No end in sight yet for Trans-Pacific trade pact

Tue Feb 25, 2014 8:56am EST

* Tariffs, market access prove difficult issues in talks
    * No time frame for next meeting to secure trade pact
    * No breakthrough in Japan-U.S. differences over import
tariffs

 (Adds details on Japan, Froman quote from conference call)
    By Rachel Armstrong and Masayuki Kitano
    SINGAPORE, Feb 25 (Reuters) - Ministers in 12-nation
Trans-Pacific trade talks said on Tuesday they had yet to reach
agreement on tariffs and other market access issues, with the
timing of a completed deal looking increasingly unclear. 
    Ministers said they had made significant progress during
four days of meetings in Singapore, but the talks ended with no
clear indication of a time frame to clinch the TPP
(Trans-Pacific Partnership) agreements. 
    "Market access is in some respects the heart and soul of any
trade agreement so until that's done, we don't have an
agreement," New Zealand Trade Minister, Tim Groser told a news
conference after the talks. 
    The U.S.-backed deal aims to cut tariffs and set common
standards on other trade issues across a dozen countries that
cover almost 40 percent of the global economy.   
    Long-running differences on tariffs on imported goods,
particularly between the United States and Japan, which is keen
to protect sensitive products such as rice, meat and wheat, are
proving difficult to overcome. 
    Two sets of meetings between the Japanese and U.S.
delegations during the talks produced no breakthrough. U.S.
Trade Representative Michael Froman said market access for
agriculture in Japan remained a "significant" issue but played
down the idea that TPP talks might proceed without Japan, the
second-biggest economy in the bloc. 
    "All the countries around the table are focused on trying to
get that deal done with all 12 countries as part of it," he told
reporters on a conference call.    
    Sticking points over intellectual property and the rules for
state-owned enterprises and government procurement are also
proving difficult.     
    "If you ask whether all outstanding issues have been
resolved, it is also a common recognition that they still
remain," Japan's Economics Minister Akira Amari said ahead of
the final part of the talks.
    Malaysia's International Trade and Industry Minister,
Mustapa Mohamed, said participants were all showing flexibility,
but some issues were tough to move on.
    "There are things which can be done, there are others which
cannot be done and we've been telling our partners what is
doable and what is not doable," he said. 
    
    NO DATE IN THE DIARY
    There had been expectations that the deal could be concluded
in time for U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Asia in
April. It is unclear, however, whether ministers will meet again
before the trip. 
    "We've made no further plans at this point in terms of the
next meetings," Froman said. 
    Another issue is whether the U.S. government will be able to
establish the so-called Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), which
will deny U.S. lawmakers the opportunity to amend the TPP
agreement. 
    Obama has faced opposition from his own Democratic Party
over the matter, while other participating countries are said to
be worried that, without the TPA, Congress could make major
changes to any deal they come up with. 
    Ministers said TPA had not been discussed during the meeting
as it was a domestic U.S. political issue. 
    Expectations that other countries may soon join the talks - 
Taiwan and South Korea have both expressed interest - were also
dismissed as premature.  
    "Right now, all of us are focused on closing among the 12
before we consider taking additional members," said Froman. 
    The full list of countries participating in the talks are 
the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand,
Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam, Chile, Mexico and Peru.

 (Reporting by Rachel Armstrong and Masayuki Kitano; Additional
reporting by Krista Hughes in Washington; Editing by Paul Tait,
Ron Popeski and Sofina Mirza-Reid)