Pacific Rim trade pact remains elusive

Hopes to seal deal this year sink amid split views on farm tariffs and state-owned firms

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 December, 2013, 5:05am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 December, 2013, 5:05am

An ambitious trade pact between a dozen countries around the Pacific Rim will not be finalised this year, with no agreement on thorny issues such as intellectual property, agricultural tariffs and state-owned enterprises.

The United States-backed agreement, which Washington wanted to conclude this year, aims to establish a free-trade bloc stretching from Vietnam to Chile and Japan, encompassing about 800 million people and almost 40 per cent of the global economy.

But differences over farm tariffs between the US and Japan proved to be one of the major roadblocks.

"None of us have agreed on anything," Tim Groser, New Zealand's trade minister, said yesterday at the end of a four-day meeting of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Resolving the US-Japan market access questions will be critical to [pact’s] success

"The outline of a genuine 21st century agreement is coming into view and, as is always the case in life, the toughest political decisions will be taken at the end."

The ministers said they had found possible areas where they might agree but needed to continue discussions and would meet again next month.

More far-reaching than other deals, the pact is aimed at going beyond tariffs on physical trade and it will try to regulate sensitive areas such as government procurement and give companies more rights to sue.

One problem area is the US and Japan's disagreement over Japan's long-stated aim to exempt five sensitive farm products - rice, wheat, beef and pork, dairy products and sugar - from the scrapping of tariffs.

"Resolving the US-Japan market access questions will be critical to the success of [the pact]," US Trade Representative Michael Froman said on the sidelines of the meeting.

Yasutoshi Nishimura, a senior vice-minister for Japan's Cabinet Office, said Tokyo was still committed to reaching an agreement.

"We are now moving towards that goal … we are deepening discussions," Nishimura said.