Trans-Pacific Partnership talks likely to miss deadline for deal, leak shows

Leak of draft accord makes end-of-year deadline even less achievable amid popular opposition

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 November, 2013, 9:36pm
UPDATED : Friday, 22 November, 2013, 1:14am

The leak of a document purported to be part of the draft text for the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade accord has further dented optimism talks can be concluded by the end of this year.

"Next year is doable, but this year is very tough," Mustapa Mohamed, Malaysia's international trade minister, said. "We've got another few weeks to go and Christmas. People close shop. What came out in the last couple of weeks from WikiLeaks is not helping the process."

Overall it’s good for Malaysia, but … we’ve got to convince our people

Some TPP provisions would "trample over individual rights", according to anti-secrecy organisation WikiLeaks, which last week released online what it said is a draft of the proposed agreement on intellectual property rights. Chief negotiators from the nations crafting the deal have been meeting in the US state of Utah this week. The next round of talks, planned for Singapore next month, would be crucial in providing clarity on where the agreement is going, Mustapa said.

Malaysia has expressed wariness over some parts of the deal to create a trade bloc covering an area with about US$28 trillion in annual economic output, including those related to state-owned enterprises and government procurement. Leaders from the US to Japan also face opposition to the deal at home, which the Asian Development Bank said last month is at risk of collapsing into a series of bilateral agreements.

"It's hard to see Malaysia or any other country in the region just jumping into it without due consideration," Rahul Bajoria, a Singapore-based economist at Barclays, said. "These negotiations will probably continue for a little bit longer."

The official deadline to complete the talks remains the end of this year even as a variety of officials involved have indicated this won't be met.

Prime Minister Najib Razak said last month he was committed to negotiating the best possible deal for Malaysia and presenting it to parliament to decide whether to sign. He wants to protect the country's affirmative-action programme, under which it grants preferential treatment in areas including business and education to ethnic Malays and indigenous people. The government is also keen to ensure any agreement on patents doesn't raise health-care costs, he said.

"We still believe that overall it's good for Malaysia, but in the end, of course, we've got to convince our people," Mustapa said. "We've been facing a lot of domestic opposition. In some countries the challenges are not as enormous as what we have."

In addition to Japan, the US and Malaysia, the other nations negotiating the TPP are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

TPP members are pinning hopes on the pact boosting exports and supporting growth amid an uneven global recovery.

Japan's defence of its farming industry, Malaysia's proposal to keep tobacco control measures out of the deal, and the impact of currency manipulation on markets are among issues that have impeded progress.