MAUI, Hawaii - The ministerial meeting of the 12 nations participating in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade negotiations started Tuesday evening (Wednesday afternoon, JST) on the island of Maui in Hawaii.
The negotiations have reached the final phase and a broad agreement is said to be near. During the four-day conference, participants will focus on the making of common rules and finalizing the round-robin bilateral talks to abolish tariffs on a broad basis.
Prior to Tuesday's ministerial talks, Japanese TPP minister Akira Amari met one-on-one with US Trade Representative Michael Froman. Amari, speaking to reporters just before the bilateral meeting, said: "Negotiations are going into detail at the working level. We'd like to proceed with a firm stance to achieve what's best for the interests of Japan."
The issues pending between the two countries involve increasing the volume of rice imported from the United States and the timing to end the tariffs imposed on Japanese automobiles and auto parts.
With regard to the import volume of tariff-free rice as staple food, Japan is proposing that for the US market, it would be augmented by roughly 70,000 to 80,000 tons. The United States is requesting that the Japanese government guarantee the import volume to secure the augmentation. To this, Japan has not complied.
As for the duty levied on Japanese automobiles, currently at 2.5 per cent, the two countries have reached a prior agreement to set the longest possible moratorium allowed under the TPP framework before abolition. The duration is likely to be settled at around 20 years.
Furthermore, Japan is demanding that the United States further widen the range of auto parts to which the immediate elimination of tariffs could be applied. In this respect, the two sides have not been able to reach a compromise on whether high-priced major parts, such as engines and gearboxes, should be included.
Amari had said that it was difficult to settle all the issues at once, indicating that reaching an agreement would be possible only in the final phase of the bilateral talks.
Drugs and investments
In plenary negotiations, the 12 participants are close to striking a deal on the length of data protection granted to pharmaceutical companies that hold patents on biologic drugs. The issue had been a stumbling block until recently in the free trade deal talks.
During talks, the United States, which is home to a number of major pharmaceutical companies, had requested 12 years, while Japan and several other countries appealed for eight years. Emerging economies, such as Malaysia and New Zealand, which have an interest in exploiting generic drugs, pushed for 5 years or less.
However, in recent talks, the United States acceded to the idea of "less than 10 years," while Malaysia and New Zealand agreed in general to set the length to "seven to eight years," under the condition that a moratorium be set before implementation.
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, making a conciliatory gesture, said in an interview with local radio on Tuesday that the length of data protection was most likely to be extended from the number of years they have been contesting for.
The negotiators are currently in talks in an attempt to reach a settlement at "seven to eight years."
On another front, plenary talks on the comprehensive rules for trade and investment have been making considerable progress. In a meeting of chief negotiators that lasted until Monday, sources said that agreements are coming closer for government procurement and environmental protection, among others.
Sources also said a certain degree of progress was made in four fields including those of intellectual property and investments, which the ministers aim to settle during their talks.
With regard to investments, another area that has been a stumbling block, a new system will likely be introduced under which companies can demand compensation from the governments of countries in which they have invested if they were to suffer from irrational regulation revisions or other actions.