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USTR Sees “Important Progress” in TPP Talks, But Obstacles Remain

Posted September 12, 2014

Negotiations between 12 nations drafting the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) made “important progress” following 10 days of intensive meetings in Hanoi, according to a press release earlier this week from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR).

“We have committed to a focused work plan, which will allow us to boost momentum and make continued progress,” Barbara Weisel, U.S. Chief Negotiator for TPP, is quoted as saying. “All countries involved want to reach a conclusion to unlock the enormous opportunity TPP represents.”
Wiesel elaborated on the specifics of the progress made in an interview with Bloomberg, which primarily concerned establishing rules for state-owned enterprises. “We are not done and further work is needed, but we have made a significant step forward on some of the most challenging provisions in the SOE text,” Weisel said. “We want to negotiate this chapter in a way that addresses the real sensitivities that countries have without undermining the obligations that we are seeking to negotiate.”

Despite the progress made in this critical area, significant obstacles still remain around intellectual property protection, the environment, and various specific market access issues, including agriculture.

A solution to the impasse between the U.S. and Japan over proposed tariff elimination for certain key agricultural products remains elusive despite two days of talks recently in Tokyo. The failure to make any significant headway on closing the “considerable gaps” remaining between the two countries regarding special exemptions for certain agricultural goods puts in doubt the prospect of striking a bilateral deal by the end of this month, seen as vital before all TPP negotiating members can reach an agreement.

The main focus of the discussions has been the extent to which Japan should cut tariffs on beef and pork – one of Tokyo’s five sensitive agricultural product categories – and safeguard measures it seeks to introduce should imports of certain farm products surge under the Pacific-region trade agreement.