New year begins new TPP talks, Obama 'optimistic'

After failing to finalise a deal in 2014, the negotiating countries of the Trans Pacific Partnership will resume talks early next year.

The chief negotiators of the participating nations could meet in January in either Australia or the US.

Japanese TPP minister Akira Amari says he expects a ministerial meeting will be held in early 2015 if the chief negotiators’ meeting in January makes major progress in organising market access.

The chief negotiators of the 12 TPP nations finished a six-day meeting in Washington DC last week but were unable to close gaps in intellectual property rights protection and various tariffs.

It is unclear whether the expected meeting in January will be successful in pushing those contentions along.

However, last week’s meeting reported some progress in environmental protection and labour laws. Restrictions were also sought on preferential treatment of state enterprises, with emerging economies allowed to take exceptional measures. Details are so far unclear. 

The US and the participating countries of the TPP remain at odds over protection of pharmaceutical development data and other matters concerning intellectual property rights.

For the US and Japan, the main contention this year has been an inability to compromise on agricultural market access especially.

The US chief agricultural negotiator Darci Vetter spoke to an event in Washington recently, saying both sides have made progress on market access and “entered their final stage”.

US President Barack Obama told media over the weekend that he is “much more optimistic” about the deal than he was at the end of 2013.

“It doesn’t mean it’s a done deal but I think the odds of us being able to get a strong agreement are significantly higher than 50-50,” he says.

Mr Obama says he will work with the US Congress to approve fast-track authority next year, which limits lawmakers to a yes-or-no vote on trade deals. There is currently no indication of timing for the fast-track authority.

“The dynamics really don’t change in terms of the number of votes in the House and the Senate that are there to be gotten for a good trade deal but we have to make the case and I think we can make a very strong case,” Mr Obama says.

nsmith@nbr.co.nz

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