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TPP deal is still on track, say leaders
Publication Date : 09-10-2013
Leaders of the 12 countries exploring the ambitious Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade deal have said their negotiations remain on track, and the target for completion is still the end of this year.
They said in a joint statement yesterday that their nations have made "significant progress in recent months" on legal provisions that govern access to markets for goods, services, investment, financial services and government procurement.
"We have agreed that negotiators should now proceed to resolve all outstanding issues with the objective of completing this year a comprehensive and balanced regional agreement," the leaders added.
They pledged also to ensure the benefits of the agreement are "fully shared" and take into account their countries' different levels of development.
The TPP, a wide-ranging agreement that has been touted as the "gold standard" for future free trade pacts, is being negotiated by 12 of the 21 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) nations, namely, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the US and Vietnam.
Together the countries account for 40 per cent of the world's gross domestic product and a third of the world's trade.
TPP countries held official talks here in Bali last week that culminated in a leaders' meeting yesterday afternoon on the sidelines of the two-day summit of the Apec grouping. The US, which has been the TPP's main proponent, had hoped to announce in Bali that negotiations had been substantially concluded.
But it suffered a blow when US President Barack Obama, who was supposed to chair the leaders' meeting, had to cancel his trip to Indonesia.
In any case, negotiators seem to have been hard-pressed to find broad agreement over many parts of the trade pact. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said on Monday that some provisions threaten "fundamentally the sovereign right of the country to make regulations and policies".
Sources familiar with the talks also told The Straits Times that Vietnam, for example, had concerns over trade rules that would disadvantage its apparel manufacturing industry. "There are 29 chapters in the TPP and they have concluded negotiations on maybe four to six only," said one source.
TPP leaders recognised these concerns yesterday, saying "stakeholders across the region have provided valuable input". "We look forward to review and consideration of the outcome of our work, consistent with each of our domestic processes," they added.
Speaking at the TPP leaders' meeting, Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong urged nations to press on despite the difficulties. "(We are) right to aim high, to set high standards and craft an agreement that is pro-trade and relevant to modern businesses, but at the same time, we must be pragmatic and recognise the real policy concerns and difficult issues each party faces," he said.
"We must strike a balance between ambition and an agreement that we can sell to our peoples and businesses," added Lee.
He noted that the pact must be in place in each of the TPP countries regardless of their political systems. The statement on the TPP's progress was a postscript to an Apec summit which otherwise saw no breakthrough on major trade issues.
Apec leaders ended the meetings with a vague pledge to implement "responsible macroeconomic policies" in the face of slowing global growth. In their own closing statement, they vowed to fight protectionism and improve links across Apec member eocnomies - in particular through development and investment in infrastructure.