Wednesday, December 05, 2012
Posted: December 5, 2012
AUCKLAND – The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiating schedule is shaping up for 2013, with only three more full negotiating rounds expected before an October meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, which TPP leaders are eying as a target date for concluding a final TPP deal, sources here said.
The APEC leader’s meeting — taking place Oct. 1-8 in Bali, Indonesia — is expected to be the forum for making the final TPP political decisions that have to be made at the ministerial level or higher, these sources said.
Following the current negotiating round that kicked off here this week, the next round of talks is expected to take place in March in Singapore. After that, negotiators will travel to Peru for the 17th full round of talks next May, and then an 18th full round of talks is expected to take place next September, although the location is not clear.
That said, a number of inter-sessional meetings are also expected to take place in between these formal rounds, especially over the summer months next year, sources said.
While TPP members are only planning to hold three formal rounds next year, there are still many issues that need to be worked through in order for the talks to conclude. Moreover, the fact that Canada and Mexico have now joined the talks — and are participating here for the first time — also poses a complication moving into next year, they said.
In an interview last week, New Zealand Trade Minister Tim Groser said that negotiators have, in a “technical sense,” only closed two or three chapters, but that “understates the progress that has been made” thus far (see related story).
Last September, Groser said about half of the chapters in the TPP have either been nearly closed out or reached a point where higher level officials must provide political guidance on contentious issues (Inside U.S. Trade, Sept. 21). TPP negotiators are no longer publicly announcing when they close out certain chapters.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s director of Southeast Asia policy, Catherine Mellor, this week identified four difficult issues currently in play in the talks that will take “genuine political will” to resolve. However, she held out the hope that the round taking place here would set the framework for bringing the talks to conclusion by next October.
In a blog post on the Chamber’s website, Mellor argued that the first issue to address is comprehensive market access. She said the U.S. “will have to screw up its courage and improve its market access offers” in areas such as apparel and footwear, sugar, and dairy.
She linked the willingness of the U.S. to offer improved market access to achieving high ambitions in the three other areas that need to be resolved: an outcome on intellectual property rights protections, a provision that will require the free flow of data across borders, and establishing disciplines to ensure state-owned enterprises compete on a level playing field with other private-sector actors.
“These decisions do not get easier with time, so it seems that this current round is as good as any to face the music,” Mellor wrote in her blog post.