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By Toshio Aritake
Oct. 30 — Japanese economy and finance minister Akira Amari Oct. 29 said TPP countries will hold a ministerial meeting in Beijing Nov. 8 ahead of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation annual leadership meeting.
The ministerial meeting is seen as the last opportunity for the 12 TPP countries to conclude the two-year-long negotiations to establish a free trade bloc or, failing that, nudge them toward the China-led regional trade regime known as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
Amari disclosed the upcoming Trans-Pacific Partnership meeting schedule to a gathering of his ruling Liberal Democratic Party, an LDP spokesman confirmed Oct. 30.
“Japan-U.S. negotiations regarding what to do about the five agricultural products plus other issues have moved forward and that is undeniable,” Amari told the LDP meeting. “But there are many other important issues remaining to be resolved, and Japan will continue talking with the United States and other (TPP member) countries. But negotiations are nearing the final stage.”
Amari said the Beijing TPP meeting will be held before the APEC leadership summit, so TPP ministers including Amari will brief the APEC leaders about the TPP ministerial outcome.
The APEC meeting is scheduled to start Nov. 7. The TPP and APEC meetings in the Chinese capital are scheduled after the Nov. 4 U.S. mid-term election.
Amari's disclosure of the TPP meeting, particularly that it would be held before the APEC leadership meeting, has sparked speculation that the U.S. and Japan had come to an agreement and that they would persuade other TPP ministers to conclude the two-year-long talks at the upcoming meeting. The ministers would tell their leaders to announce it at the APEC leadership summit.
At the Oct. 25-27 Sydney ministerial meeting, the 12 TPP country minsters stopped short of reaching an agreement over intellectual property rights protection relating to pharmaceuticals, developing country government corporations, U.S.-Japan bilateral spat over agricultural tariffs and safeguards, and auto trade issues, Japanese government sources told BNA earlier.
However, Amari later reiterated that the two countries had narrowed their differences.
A senior Japanese auto industry official told BNA Oct. 30 that the Japanese government is imposing a curfew on TPP developments and he had not heard from the government.
But he said ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers and Japanese government officials earlier said Japan and the U.S. share a common understanding that they need the TPP to balance Asia's regional trade theater, which increasingly is feeling China's dominance.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the TPP's importance has increased more than before because China had virtually high-jacked the RCEP— the regional trade regime comprising the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations plus Japan, China, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and India—from Japan that initiated the idea.
Meanwhile, TPP negotiations are not likely to conclude by the end of the year primarily because of Japan-U.S. bilateral differences over beef, pork, dairy products, sugar, and beef and pork safeguards, as well as U.S. car and truck tariffs.
The RCEP working-level meeting was held in Jakarta, Indonesia Oct. 27, with the next meeting to be held in December in India, a Japanese Foreign Ministry official said.
China, which has a free trade agreement with ASEAN, as well as bilateral FTAs with most ASEAN members, not surprisingly is expanding its reach to the 16 economies, dethroning Japan, which has lagged behind Beijing because of Tokyo's slow pace at clinching FTAs with ASEAN and its members as well as other five countries.
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