Negotiators have made “a tonne of progress” on a planned giant Pacific free-trade pact over the past year, but the tough phase has only just begun, a top US trade official said today.
US Deputy Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis said a “vast amount” of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) had been agreed upon by the nine countries involved.
“We’ve made a tonne of progress over the past year and we’ve reached a point now where we have many challenging issues that we have to address,” Demetrios Marantis said at an Asia Pacific meeting in the Far East Russian city of Vladivostok.
The nine countries currently involved in the talks are Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.
He said Canada and Mexico would also formally join the talks in October.
All nations are members of the 21-economy APEC forum, whose leaders are due to hold an annual summit in Vladivostok this weekend.
Demetrios Marantis said trade ministers from the nine countries involved in the TPP met yesterday in Vladivostok on the sidelines of pre-summit APEC events, and later held discussions with their counterparts from Canada and Mexico.
Ministers are not the ones negotiating, but they give instructions to their negotiators. The 14th round of talks began in the United States this week and run until September 15.
The TPP began as an obscure grouping of Singapore, Brunei, New Zealand and Chile but it gained momentum when the United States joined in 2008, with President Barack Obama since focusing on the potential pact as a tool to advance American economic interests in the Asia Pacific.
Obama’s administration has touted the TPP as a pathway towards achieving a long-desired free trade area of the Asia Pacific that would span both sides of the Pacific Rim, from Chile to China via the United States.
But analysts have said China, which is an APEC member, is reluctant to join the TPP, preferring bilateral and other regional free trade pacts in which it has more influence.
Japan has expressed an interest but faces intense domestic opposition to joining the TPP, particularly from rice farmers.