| WASHINGTON, April 18
WASHINGTON, April 18 Eleven countries
negotiating a proposed free trade agreement in the Asia-Pacific
appear to be on the verge of formally inviting Japan into the
talks, diplomatic and industry sources said on Thursday.
Top trade officials from the 11 countries participating in
the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) talks are meeting on Friday
in Surabaya, Indonesia, ahead of the annual Asia-Pacific
Economic Cooperation (APEC)) trade ministers meeting this
Japan, the world's third-largest economy, struck a deal with
the United States last week to get Washington's support to join
the TPP talks. But all 11 TPP countries have to agree to let
Japan into the negotiations, which are already nearly three
A diplomatic source, speaking on condition she not be
identified because she was not authorized to discuss the matter
publicly, said there was "momentum" behind Japan's bid to join
the talks, although some countries like New Zealand are still
seeking assurances Japan is willing to discuss phasing out
tariffs in all sectors, including sensitive ones like dairy.
Mexico and Canada are said to also have questions about the
implications of the U.S.-Japan deal struck last week, which
calls for Washington and Tokyo to negotiate separately on autos
and some other issues and then incorporate the results into the
overall TPP pact.
The TPP talks are officially slated to conclude this year,
although many trade experts expect them to stretch into 2014.
Some countries on Thursday were still looking for assurance that
Japan's entry would not slow the talks down, diplomatic sources
A U.S. industry official, also speaking on condition she not
be identified because she was not authorized to discuss the
matter publicly, said she expected the TPP countries to issue a
statement on Friday welcoming Japan into the negotiations.
But the document could be carefully worded to reflect
unresolved concerns that some countries still have, she said.
Japan is pressing for a decision on its entry because it
wants to participate in the July round of negotiations, which
would require the White House to quickly give Congress 90-day
notice of its intention to begin trade talks with Tokyo.
The 11 countries currently in the TPP talks are the United
States, Mexico, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Peru,
Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.
A 17th round of talks is currently scheduled for May in
Peru. The dates and location of the 18th round in July have not
yet been announced.
(Reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)