Bridges Weekly Trade News DigestVolume 17Number 14 • 25th April 2013

Japan Gets TPP Invite, As APEC Calls for Faster WTO Talks

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The eleven countries currently negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement formally invited Japan into their ranks this weekend, pending the conclusion of their respective domestic procedures. The news of Tokyo’s invite comes just over a month after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced that his country would be pursuing a seat at the table in the trans-Pacific negotiations.

Tokyo’s membership likely to take effect by July, officials say

The decision to invite Japan into the 11-country talks took centre stage during last weekend’s meeting of TPP officials, which occurred on the margins of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) trade ministers’ gathering in Surabaya, Indonesia.

In their announcement on Saturday, TPP ministers stressed that the process of formalising Japan’s entry will be conducted “in a manner that allows the negotiations to continue expeditiously toward conclusion.” The 11 countries currently negotiating the so-called “21st-century” agreement are aiming to finalise talks by the end of this year - possibly even in time for the APEC Leaders’ Summit in October.

Tokyo will officially be able to take part in the negotiations once all current members have concluded any necessary domestic procedures. In the US, for instance, the Obama Administration must formally notify Congress and then allow for a 90-day period. Officials have said that they hope Japan’s membership will be in effect by July.

The entry of Japan into the negotiations will mean that the trans-Pacific pact would - when completed - cover 40 percent of global GDP, a fact that various TPP ministers stressed in their remarks.

“The TPP membership was already robust, presenting economic opportunities for the United States and every member country, and the addition of Japan increases its significance and its potential across the board,” Acting US Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis said on Sunday.

While an invite for the Asian economic powerhouse came as little surprise - particularly after Washington’s announcement earlier this month that it had finished consultations with Tokyo - early reports from the summit had shown that some TPP members, such as Canada, still had their doubts. (See Bridges Weekly, 18 April 2013)

However, Ottawa ultimately announced on Saturday that it was ready to approve Japan’s entry into the group, having finished its own discussions with the Asian country.

The next round of TPP negotiations will be held from 15-24 May, in Lima, Peru. At that meeting, negotiators will be expected to complete their work on some chapters, while speeding up their work on some of the more difficult topics, ministers said. These will include, among others, intellectual property, state-owned enterprises, environmental issues, and market access for goods, services, investment, and government procurement.

The eleven members of the TPP include Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the US, and Vietnam.

The TPP has been touted by its supporters as a possible model for a broader free trade area of the Asia-Pacific; however, other concurrent efforts at negotiating regional deals that could eventually include all APEC countries are also underway.

For instance, last November a group of 16 countries - including all ten members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, as well as China - announced they were planning talks for another trade pact, known as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). (See Bridges Weekly, 21 November 2012)

That group - which also includes some members of the TPP - is expected to launch their first round of negotiations next month, according to Agence France Presse.

APEC trade ministers call for WTO results by December

The news of Japan’s TPP invite came just as trade ministers from the 21 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) countries - a list that includes the TPP economies - issued a call to WTO members to intensify efforts at concluding a Doha Round mini-package in time for the global trade body’s Ninth Ministerial Conference (MC9) in December.

WTO members are currently trying to extract a small set of deliverables - including a trade facilitation agreement, and some provisions relating agriculture and to developing and least developed countries - from the stalled Doha Round in time for the ministerial.

In a statement on Saturday, APEC officials said that the current pace of WTO negotiations is not fast enough to ensure success at the upcoming ministerial conference, which will be held on the Indonesian island of Bali later this year. Their comments broadly echoed fears stated by the global trade body’s outgoing Director-General, Pascal Lamy, earlier this month, when he warned WTO members that “rapid acceleration and real negotiations” are vital in order to prevent failure at the December meeting. (See Bridges Weekly, 18 April 2013)

“There is broad convergence of views that the negotiation as it stands now is not on course to lead to a successful outcome at MC9 on 3-6 December in Bali,” the APEC ministers said. “We are deeply concerned about the state of play in the negotiations and we call on WTO members to change the quality and level of engagement in order to expeditiously and effectively advance our work.”

An outcome at the December ministerial conference, however, should not mark the end of the Doha Round talks, they said - but rather serve just a stepping stone toward that goal.

The APEC ministers also urged that the talks to expand the product coverage in the WTO’s Information Technology Agreement (ITA) - a plurilateral pact that covers trade in information and communication technology products - be concluded by the middle of this year. Members negotiating the expansion of the ITA have recently said that they hope to have a list of products to add to the nearly two-decades-old agreement by summer. (See Bridges Weekly, 27 March 2013)

ICTSD reporting; “Japan wins spot in Asia-Pacific mega trade bloc talks,” AFP, 20 April 2013; “Japan Joins Talks to Form Free-Trade Bloc,” THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, 20 April 2013; “Asia-Pacific countries poised to start free-trade talks,” AFP, 23 April 2013.

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