(Adds comments from U.S. official)
SINGAPORE May 20 Ministers from 12 nations
trying to create a trans-Pacific trade pact said on Tuesday they
have regained momentum in efforts to resolve the thorny issues
of tariffs and market access, though they were unable to reach a
Speaking after a two-day meeting in Singapore, the ministers
said recent bilateral talks between the United States and Japan
had helped breathe life into stalled negotiations on the
ambitious Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) pact.
"I would say there is almost a sense of urgency about
capturing that momentum and holding it, and using it to get
ourselves a lot further down the line in the next few weeks,"
Australian Trade Minister Andrew Robb told a press conference
following the meeting.
The original aim of the TPP was to abolish all tariffs among
member countries. But it hasn't been possible to reach an
agreement on doing so, as the idea faces opposition,
particularly in Japan. The deal also aims to set common rules on
issues as diverse as labor and intellectual property.
While governments were keen to stress the progress made at
this week's meeting, it is unclear whether a deal can be
clinched before U.S. congressional elections in November.
Malaysian Trade Minister Mustapa Mohamed said after the
Singapore meeting: "There has been some progress. Of course it
is not entirely satisfactory. We have some way to go on market
The ministers said they had asked their chief negotiators to
meet again in July and will hold bilateral talks in the
meantime. Further U.S.-Japan talks on farm exports are scheduled
to take place in Washington next week.
Japan's economy minister, Akira Amari, said on Monday that
Tokyo has told Pacific trading partners it will not abolish
tariffs in the five agricultural sectors it considers sacred,
which include rice, dairy products and beef and
U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said the United
States is still pressing for tariff elimination to the "maximum
Last month's summit between U.S. President Barack Obama and
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who have made finalising the
TPP key planks of their economic policies, gave a clear push to
the talks, Froman said.
Japanese media have reported that TPP countries would agree
to set copyright protection for music and written works at 70
years, but Froman said work was still needed on both market
access and common rules.
"There are a number of rules issues, including on the
(intellectual property) chapter, (where) we don't have final
agreement, there are still outstanding issues to work through,"
he said on a conference call for reporters.
(Reporting by Rachel Armstrong and Masayuki Kitano; Additional
reporting by Krista Hughes in Washington; Editing by Richard
Borsuk; and Peter Galloway)