TPP talks on tariffs advance as Brunei round ends

Kyodo News International               August 30, 2013

Japan and 11 other Pacific Rim countries wrapped up the 19th round of the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade negotiations in Brunei on Friday, saying they have advanced work on tariffs and other key subjects while agreeing to hold more working-level negotiations in coming weeks.

During the nine-day round since Aug. 22, Japan proposed eliminating tariffs on around 80 percent of imported products, and plans to raise the offer to over 90 percent in subsequent negotiations, sources said.

The 12 participating countries, including the United States, are now arranging a meeting of chief negotiators in Washington Sept. 18-21 as they pursue the goal of concluding a deal by a year-end deadline, according to Japanese officials.

The Brunei round was the last round of full-scale negotiations, with the countries now expected to focus on intersessional meetings involving only one or two working groups from now on, one source said.

In a statement released at the end of the Brunei round, the TPP countries said, "Negotiators advanced their technical work this round on the texts covering market access," which deals with tariff cuts, and numerous other fields such as fishing subsidies and intellectual property.

Market access is one of the issues that Japan is keen to discuss as it faces strong domestic pressure to protect rice and four other sensitive farm products by retaining tariffs it levies on imports of those items.

Japan’s chief negotiator Koji Tsuruoka said at a press conference that the nation has held bilateral tariff negotiations with all TPP countries other than Chile and Peru this time.

Japan exchanged lists of proposals on tariff-free items with six countries — Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, New Zealand, Mexico and Peru, a source familiar with the matter said.

The negotiations with the United States and Australia did not involve an exchange of a list of proposal on tariff-free items as the United States has said it can only table its offer in September while Australia awaits a general election on Sept. 7.

Tsuruoka indicated a plan to raise the ratio of tariff-free items, saying Japan’s counterparts who received its tariff proposals have said there is still much room for improvement.

Under the 13 existing free trade agreements concluded by Japan, the percentage of items on which Tokyo agreed to eliminate tariffs within 10 years ranges from 84.4 percent to 88.4 percent of the total.

If Japan agrees to abolish all tariffs other than those on its five key farm product categories — rice, wheat, beef and pork (counted as one), dairy products and sugar — the tariff-free percentage would rise to 93.5 percent.

The latest TPP statement also said, "Negotiators will meet again intersessionally in the coming weeks to further their work" toward the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum summit scheduled to be held in Bali, Indonesia, in early October.

The TPP countries have been aiming to reach a basic agreement in October and conclude a deal by the end of the year. Ministers of the 12 TPP members reaffirmed the target after meeting in the first two days of the Brunei round last week.

The countries involved in the TPP negotiations are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.

Japan only joined the TPP talks near the end of the Malaysia round held in July, and the latest Brunei round was the first full round it participated in.

The TPP negotiations stretch over 21 fields as the members are aiming for creation of a comprehensive free trade pact covering nearly 40 percent of global economic output and about a third of world trade. The latest round dealt with 10 of the fields.

While most of the working groups finished negotiations for this round, some are expected to continue their work through Saturday.

TPP sources have said some groups were not as successful as desired, including the one on the environment, which made less than 40 percent of the progress expected.

==Kyodo

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