U.S. Trade Representative Michael FromanMichael FromanOvernight Finance: WH floats Mexican import tax | Exporters move to back GOP tax proposal | Dems rip Trump adviser's Goldman Sachs payout Froman heads to Council on Foreign Relations Overnight Finance: Carson, Warren battle at hearing | Rumored consumer bureau pick meets Trump | Trump takes credit for Amazon hirings | A big loss for Soros MORE said officials made inroads on market access, among a broad range of other issues, but said the deadline to complete the far-ranging Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) remained dependent on achieving the high standards staked out since the start of the talks.
Trade negotiators on Tuesday wrapped up four days of high-level talks on an Asia-Pacific trade deal without reaching a final agreement.
“The substance of the negotiations should determine the timetable” for completing the deal, Froman told reporters during a conference call from Singapore.
"Everyone here is excited about the work completed at this meeting,” he said.
Ministers said they had “made further strides toward a final agreement,” and they were able to agree on most of the “landing zones" identified in the December meeting while narrowing their differences.
Market access issues remain at the heart of the talks and are crucial to completing the agreement.
“Market access is, in some respects, the heart and soul of any trade agreement, so until that’s done, we don’t have an agreement,” said Tim Groser, New Zealand’s trade minister, according to news reports.
Froman said he felt like the leaders of all 12 nations had “redoubled efforts to achieve high standards with remaining issues more narrowly defined” during the four days of meetings.
Mustapa Mohamed, Malaysia’s minister of international trade and industry, said that all of the nations were trying to be more flexible on many country-specific sensitivities but progress was proving difficult.
He said that “significant gaps remain in the more difficult areas such as intellectual property rights, state-owned enterprises and the environment.”
No future plans to meet were announced on Tuesday.
Still, Froman said negotiators did make strides on state-owned enterprises, investment, services, telecommunications and food-safety standards.
A trio of vocal House Democrats continued to criticize the prospects of the TPP deal.
"Members of Congress were elected to create and protect jobs, not send them overseas by fast-tracking another flawed trade agreement," said Reps. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and George Miller (D-Calif.).
"Twenty years and a million lost jobs after NAFTA [North American Free Trade Agreement], members of Congress and their constituents are skeptical of another trade agreement negotiated in secret that threatens American manufacturing jobs," they said.
Lori Wallach, director Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, said the spotlight on the Japan-U.S. market access deadlock "is obscuring the broader reality that deep divides remain on many TPP chapters while opposition to TPP and fast-track authority is growing steadily in the U.S. Congress and public."
U.S. and Japanese officials met twice during the talks but could not produce a bilateral agreement.
There have been expectations that the deal could be concluded in time for President Obama’s four-nation swing through the Pacific Rim in April.
But the latest talks reflect the uncertainty of a deadline, with negotiators arguing that the focus must remain on the contents of the agreement.
The White House also faces another hurdle, convincing congressional Democrats to back the president’s call for trade promotion authority, which is designed to provide certainty to trading partners that Congress won’t seek to change the trade deal’s provisions.
Besides the United States, the other countries are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.