COMMENTARY: What really happened at the TPP talks?
There was much media and protester interest in the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiating round in Auckland but what really happened?
And what does this mean for the conclusion of negotiations?
It was clear, from the meeting of TPP leaders in Cambodia in November, that at the highest political levels there is a commitment, now that the US Presidential election is out of the way, to make more rapid progress on the TPP agenda with a view to having negotiations substantively completed by the end of October 2013.
In the trade negotiation game 10 months is not a long time. To achieve this goal, progress needs to be occurring about now on some of the more difficult issues.
There was therefore great interest in whether positions might change and progress be made on the difficult issues during the Auckland meeting.
From talking to a wide range of officials and business advisors in Auckland for the latest negotiating round, it would appear that there is a disconnect emerging between political commitment and the prosecution of the negotiation at the working level.
In between, at Chief Negotiator level, there did seem to be an increased sense of urgency.
Unfortunately there doesn't yet seem to be a game plan developed to get the negotiations to an end of October conclusion.
In summary, progress did seem to be made in Auckland on the less contentious chapters, but on market access and on issues such as intellectual property, rules of origin, sanitary and phytosanitary, cross border data flows, regulatory convergence, SOEs, labor and environment – major differences remain.
In many of these areas it does seem as though the US is isolated. In one area we were told that the US did have a counter-proposal up its sleeve, but it did not table this because positions from the other TPP members appeared entrenched. This may have been the case in other areas.
The good news is that Canada and Mexico were integrated relatively seamlessly into the negotiating process.
The next TPP Round is scheduled for Singapore in March. This will be a critical meeting.
More progress will need to be achieved in Singapore than was achieved in Auckland if we are to see this important negotiation concluded in October.
Catherine Beard is the Executive Director of ExportNZ