TPP Ministers Report Progress Made on Trade Deal

On Oct. 27, at the conclusion of their intensive three-day ministerial meeting in Sydney, Australia, the Ministers and Heads of Delegation for the twelve Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) countries (Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the U.S., and Vietnam) released a joint statement on the progress of the trade deal. Following discussions in Canberra, Australia held last week, this meeting laid the groundwork to bring the TPP negotiations to finalization.

According to the statement, “significant progress” was made on both component parts of the TPP Agreement: the market access negotiations and negotiations on the trade and investment rules, which will define, shape and integrate the TPP region once the agreement is enacted.

During these three-days, the ministers spent a considerable portion of their time in bilateral discussions which allowed for further progress in the negotiations on market access for goods, services and investment. These one-on-one conversations may help set the stage for the conclusion of the deal. However, there are still some outstanding issues that must first be resolved including: intellectual property rights, particularly on products such as pharmaceuticals, environmental protection and country-specific issues around state-owned enterprises.

“We will continue to focus our efforts, and those of our negotiating teams, to consult widely at home and work intensely with each other to resolve outstanding issues in order to provide significant economic and strategic benefits for each of us,” the ministers said in their statement.

While the statement reported that the trade agreement was “crystalizing,” negotiations remain stalled in large part due to the divide between the U.S. and Japan over agriculture and auto markets. The U.S. wants Japan to lower barriers to agricultural imports, but Japan wants to protect sensitive products, including pork, beef, dairy and sugar. An agreement between the U.S. and Japan is crucial to securing the broader pact as other partners are reluctant to commit until they see how these two resolve their differences.

The trade ministers are expected to meet again in the coming weeks when world leaders gather at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Beijing. President Barack Obama is heading to meetings in Asia in November, and has previously said that he would like to see the TPP talks nearing conclusion by that time.