SYDNEY - Australia's Trade Minister Andrew Robb said Monday the shape of an ambitious pan-Pacific trade agreement was "crystallising", with the 12 nations involved making further progress on market access negotiations.
Robb said at the end of the three-day talks in Sydney that trade ministers had laid the groundwork for the conclusion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal, which would encompass 40 per cent of the global economy.
"Over the course of our weekend meeting, we have spent a considerable portion of our time in one-on-one discussions," Robb, who is hosting the Australian-leg of the discussions, said in a statement Monday.
"That has allowed us to make further progress in the negotiations on market access for goods, services and investment.
"We consider that the shape of an ambitious, comprehensive, high-standard and balanced deal is crystallising." The TPP deal has been the subject of discussions for several years, with negotiations slowing while the United States and Tokyo debate key details, including Japanese tariffs on agricultural imports and US access to Japan's auto market.
Even so, US President Barack Obama said in June he hoped to have an agreement on framing the deal by November, when he is expected in the region for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Beijing and the G20 summit in Brisbane.
Robb said negotiators were making "significant progress" in both the market access and trade and investment rules discussions, and were to consult within their own countries and with each other to "resolve outstanding issues".
Supporters of the trade deal say it will free up trade in the region, reduce regulation and increase job opportunities. But opponents argue it would benefit big business rather than the general public, and lead to a rise in the price of medications, fewer Internet freedoms and environmental damage.
The 12 prospective TPP members are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.