| June 5
June 5 Some Pacific trading partners are aiming
for a deal on a regional free trade zone as early as the next
few months, sources close to the negotiations said, although
others caution a pact is still a long way off and see the U.S.
elections as a wild card.
Trade ministers from the 12 Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)
countries said after May meetings in Singapore the talks gained
momentum and they would step up efforts over coming weeks.
A central element of U.S. President Barack Obama's strategic
shift towards Asia, the TPP would cut trade barriers and
harmonize rules in a complex deal covering two-fifths of the
world economy and a third of global trade.
Some officials close to the talks told Reuters they worried
about a closing window of opportunity to finalize talks with
U.S. mid-term elections in November.
A Mexican official, who was not authorized to speak
publicly, said some were pushing to get an agreement in
September at the latest.
"If we don't make it during the summer it will be difficult
for the United States to persuade voters in the middle of the
mid-term election campaign, so the aim of the members,
particularly Japan, the United States and Mexico, is to seek an
agreement towards the end of the (northern) summer," he said.
Still, others took a more pessimistic view. A diplomatic
source from another TPP country, who is familiar with the
negotiations but declined to be identified, said he did not
expect ministers to meet again in July, or even August.
"Until the (U.S. mid-term) election is over, there won't be
real enthusiasm for striking a deal," he said, adding it would
need "huge political investment" in Washington to get an
agreement this year.
"It is going to take considerable time to reach the final
stage of negotiations. There is a lot of filibustering of issues
by other countries because they are afraid if all issues are
resolved, excluding those they are interested in, they will be
Obama's democrats have links to labor and environmental
groups who worry the TPP may cost the United States jobs and
harm the environment. Some democrats facing tight election races
may be unwilling to support a deal that could lose them votes.
The White House hoped to complete TPP last year but talks
stalled over Japanese tariffs on agricultural imports. Tokyo
wants to protect rice, wheat, dairy, sugar and beef and pork
products, while Washington seeks to shield U.S. carmakers from
increased Japanese competition.
Countries hope to wrap up talks this year. Japanese
Economics Minister Akira Amari has said talks are in their final
phase. U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman has said the
substance will drive the timetable.
Those attending the Singapore talks said they noted a change
in attitude from Japan after an earlier summit between Obama and
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
"Japan is starting to sit down and talk with members like
Mexico ... Peru and Chile, whereas before they had been a bit
evasive," the Mexican official said.
Australian Trade Minister Andrew Robb said countries made
real progress on what each would offer on market access. "My
sense is that we are months, not years, away," he said in
written response to questions.
A New Zealand industry source briefed on the talks said it
was unlikely that officials would reach anything other than a
"cosmetic" agreement this year, with details to be worked out
New Zealand has its own elections in September and the
government will effectively be in hiatus from late June.
An individual familiar with the U.S. position said talks
were not in the final phase yet and outstanding issues included
the environment text, numerous intellectual property questions,
rules on labor and the operation of state-owned enterprises.
(Ana Isabel Martinez reported from Mexico City, Linda Sieg
reported from Tokyo and Krista Hughes from Washington.
Additional reporting by Gyles Beckford in Wellington and Matt
Siegel in Sydney; editing by Andrew Hay)