TPP talks without U.S. near final stretch

Urayasu, Japan | Reuters — The 11 remaining nations in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) without the United States edged toward sealing a comprehensive free trade pact after New Zealand agreed to amend laws that are not subject to TPP, to enable its ban on foreign home purchases.

The pact aims to eliminate tariffs on industrial and farm products across an 11-nation bloc whose trade totaled $356.3 billion last year (all figures US$).

This week’s compromise saves member nations from having to renegotiate the ambitious trade pact to accommodate the New Zealand government’s demands for firm measures to rein in housing prices.

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It also brings member countries closer to an important victory in support of free trade to be finalized at an Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) summit next week in Vietnam’s central city of Danang.

“The momentum towards (an agreement) at the meeting in Danang has significantly increased,” said Japan’s chief TPP negotiator, Kazuyoshi Umemoto.

Negotiators gathered for three days in Urayasu, just east of Tokyo, to narrow down which terms of the original 12-nation deal to suspend, so as to salvage the pact at the Vietnam summit.

Canada though played down the chances of any kind of formal deal next week, citing the need to ensure the provisions in a new TPP treaty would not cause problems at ongoing talks to update the trilateral North American Free Trade Agreement. The NAFTA talks are due to wrap up next March.

“We’re moving quite expeditiously but it’s probably going to take a little longer, so as for a signature (next week) — that’s highly optimistic,” said an Ottawa source familiar with the government’s position.

‘Competitive advantage’

Canadian farm groups have pressed their officials for a deal that would help them expand market access to Japan and the other TPP countries, including Vietnam, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei Darussalam.

Among other TPP nations, Canada already has free trade pacts in place with Chile, Peru and, through NAFTA, Mexico.

“Canada’s pork producers request that the government of Canada work to ensure a TPP-11 agreement is implemented without jeopardizing the negotiated outcomes on market access that were agreed to in the original TPP agreement,” Canadian Pork Council chair Rick Bergmann, a producer from Steinbach, Man., said in a release Tuesday.

A TPP-11 deal would give Canadian canola “a competitive advantage over competing oilseed products entering TPP countries, such as U.S. soybean oil into Japan,” the Canola Council of Canada said Tuesday in a separate release.

The Canadian Meat Council on Wednesday said a TPP-11 deal would help boost Canadian meat exports to Japan by $500 million.

Without quick implementation of a deal, the council added, Canada “risks losing a critical competitive advantage to other large exporters such as the European Union.”

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who was sworn in last week, has announced plans to ban foreign home purchases that should curb speculation without forcing TPP countries to renegotiate the pact.

Japan hopes the deal, which links 11 countries with a combined GDP of $12.4 trillion, can show other nations it is able to champion free trade.

It could also help Japan resist U.S. pressure for a two-way trade pact, which is likely to come up when U.S. President Donald Trump visits, from Sunday until Tuesday, for a summit with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The TPP pact was thrown into doubt when Trump pulled the U.S. out in January to prioritize protecting jobs. New Zealand and Vietnam subsequently pushed to renegotiate it, but countries have been able to narrow their differences in the final stretch.

Reporting for Reuters by Kaori Kaneko and Stanley White in Urayasu and David Ljunggren in Ottawa. Includes files from AGCanada.com Network staff.

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