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By Len Bracken
June 20 — President Barack Obama and New Zealand Prime Minister John Key are committed to completing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement as soon as possible, according to a June 20 fact sheet issued by the White House following a confidential meeting between the two leaders.
“The President and the Prime Minister share a commitment to completing a high-standard, comprehensive TPP agreement that achieves the objectives to which TPP Leaders and Ministers agreed in Honolulu in 2011 as soon as possible,” the fact sheet said. “This agreement will contribute to economic growth and job creation in both of our countries and in the Asia-Pacific region and will build on our work together in the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum.”
The TPP leaders agreed in Honolulu in November 2011 on a broad framework for the agreement—the pact's key features, scope, legal texts and market access aspirations of complete tariff elimination—at meetings that took place on the margins of the APEC leaders' summit. The then nine TPP leaders also agreed at that time to consider the accession of Canada, Japan and Mexico to the talks, and all three APEC members have since joined the TPP.
U.S. trade officials have said that the TPP talks are at an “end game” stage, but they acknowledge work remains on the legal chapters covering intellectual property rights, the environment, labor and competition policy, among others.
TPP chief negotiators plan to meet in July with the aim of narrowing differences in these areas and on agriculture market access, where Japan and Canada, two late entrants to the talks, have been singled out by U.S. and other TPP trade officials as being insufficiently forthcoming with regard to tariff reductions, quotas and other aspects of the market access talks.
As was the case in 2011, the TPP leaders will gather at the APEC leaders' summit in November in Beijing.
Australian Trade Minister Andrew Robb said earlier in June that the TPP agreement would not be completed in 2014.
In unscripted June 19 remarks made at an event at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, New Zealand's Key said that TPP members should be prepared to conclude the agreement without Japan should its agriculture market access offer not meet the aspirations of the framework agreement.
A source familiar with New Zealand's positions who attended the event told Bloomberg BNA that the prime minister believes that Japan is sincerely seeking to reform its agricultural sector and that more time will be required for these negotiations to reach the desired outcome.
U.S. lawmakers such as Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee and Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee have said that the U.S. should conclude the TPP without Japan if it does not improve its agriculture market access offer. U.S. agriculture and automaker stakeholders have also said the other TPP members should move forward without Japan.
U.S. officials have said that Japan is now negotiating market access in all agriculture areas—including on sensitive products such as beef, pork, rice and dairy—both with the U.S. and, increasingly, with the other TPP members. The next round of U.S.-Japan bilateral talks on agriculture and autos will be held in Tokyo in late June and early July.
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The White House fact sheet can be found at http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/06/20/fact-sheet-united-states-and-new-zealand-forward-progress.
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