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Japan eyes concluding deals at TPP talks, but little progress made with U.S.

English.news.cn   2014-01-28 19:23:00

TOKYO, Jan. 28 (Xinhua) -- Japan's top Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade deal negotiator said Tuesday that talks between member countries on a number of stalled issues need to be accelerated if a February deadline for the next round of ministerial meetings, set by the United States, is to be kept.

Akira Amari, a minister in charge of the TPP negotiations, said the next round of ministerial talks needs to be decisive if resolutions are to be found, and if there is not an air of confidence about country's finding solutions to perceived impasses, the upcoming meeting could be a washout.

"The next ministerial talks should be held with confidence that we can conclude the negotiations. It will end in failure if we are left with plenty of difficult issues," Amari told a news conference Tuesday.

However he conceded that little progress had been made between U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and Japan's trade minister Toshimitsu Motegi during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Amari said that Tokyo and Washington remained at loggerheads over a number of thorny issues.

Japan's agriculture minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, after talks with Froman in Davos, said that both sides are still traversing issues at a working level to find common ground on Japan's protectionist stance on its sensitive agricultural sector, and on issues pertaining to automobiles and intellectual property from the U.S. side.

Froman has been quoted by local media as saying that not enough progress had been made by Japan, and that Tokyo had failed to live up to the "high ambition" of the TPP, as outlined in the 2011 Honolulu Declaration at which U.S. President Barack Obama and other leaders pledged a complete elimination of tariffs and flexibility on the matter from all member countries going forward.

Froman said that he is still hopeful that Japan will stick to the original fundamentals of the TPP framework and that the U.S. and Japan ironing out their differences would be crucial for the process to continue moving forward.

Japan however, since it entered the TPP talks, has sought to protect its fragile rice industry, which sees tariffs of more than 700 percent imposed on foreign imports to protect the age-old sector.

Along with its rice industry, Japan has also been looking to safeguard its wheat, beef, pork, dairy products and sugar industries, which has, previously, drawn the ire of other TPP- member countries and led to ongoing and protracted negotiations.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Dec. 12 called for a senior minister of his cabinet to speed up talks on the sluggish TPP free trade deal and insisted an agreement be found at an early juncture.

Abe instructed a senior vice minister of the Cabinet Office, who was standing in for Amari at the time, to stick to a previous commitment made with the other 11 TPP-member nations, to finalize a deal by the year-end deadline.

The deadline was missed and other log jams between member countries have also come to the fore of late.

While Japan and the U.S. squabble about agriculture and auto issues, Malaysia and Vietnam are at odds with larger economic member-nations over intellectual property rights and the reform of state-owned firms.

The TPP alliances, when negotiations have concluded, could potentially create a free-trade bloc that will comprise some 40 percent of the global economy, according to leading economists.

But with Abe pushing for a deal to be made to underpin his long- term, "third arrow" structural reform plans, under his aggressive "Abenomics" economic policy, his support base from farm lobbies could be severely diminished and the veracity of the Liberal Democratic Party's election campaign called into question, at a time the ruling party is beginning to lose its political grip at a local level.

Editor: Shen Qing
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