Froman: No TPP deal but talks intensifying, moving forward

The nation’s top trade official said Tuesday that no deadline has been set to conclude talks on a massive Asia-Pacific trade deal but negotiations will intensify in the coming weeks.

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said there was “very positive momentum” following two days of Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) discussions in Singapore even as an agreement remains elusive for the 12 Pacific Rim and Latin American nations.

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“We are very far along in that the outstanding issues, while meaningful and significant, are a relatively modest number" and the negotiators are “very focused on making progress and resolving those issues," he told reporters in a conference call from Singapore.

“It was a very productive couple of days of meetings and a remarkably positive atmosphere with all the countries around the table very focused on building the momentum of these meetings,” he said.

Froman said President Obama’s trip to Tokyo and Malaysia as well as talks in Vietnam last week provided a much-needed boost to the stalling discussions.

"Together, these three sets of meetings created very positive momentum heading into the next stage of these negotiations with countries now engaging with each other on market access issues,” he said.

He said now that the 10 other countries have seen U.S.-Japan move forward, they are stepping up their efforts to complete the long-negotiated pact. 

Progress made between Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as well as trade negotiators during that trip a few weeks ago “opened the door” for Tokyo to ramp up discussions with the 10 other nations on market access issues, he said. 

All 12 TPP partners are “fully focused, motivated, committed to devoting the resources necessary to move these conversations ahead as quickly and productively as possible," Froman said.

To that end, the TPP partners have "laid out a very intensive work program over the next several weeks,” he said.

He said the negotiators are working on a pathway forward over the next several weeks and very much focused on resolving the outstanding issues of market access and rules.”

Froman said bilateral talks will continue between the countries over the next several weeks and there will be another chief negotiators meeting in July.  

In addition, Japanese agriculture negotiators will be in Washington next week to discuss changes to that sector and demands that tariffs be eliminated on a handful of "sacred" products including rice and pork.

“We are working to press for tariff elimination to the maximum extent possible and to ensure that the final package achieves early, ongoing, improved and meaningful market access and that all the countries around the table are similarly focused,” Froman said.

“What’s clear is that all countries around the table not just the U.S. are focused on ensuring that final outcome is ambitious and comprehensive."

He also said he expects “further engagement” on auto sector issues with Japan.

Froman said he sees progress across the board on market access and rules issues, which is providing a shot of optimism for the discussions.

"I think what’s important is we’re making progress on both tracks — market access and rules," he said.

"There is importance of both tracks proceeding together because where other countries see their market-access opportunities are likely to land makes them more comfortable in addressing the outstanding rules issues," he said.

"So that was a very positive contribution of the president’s trip to Tokyo and the follow up work done, including in Vietnam last week."

Besides Japan and the United States the 10 other countries are — Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Vietnam, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru and Singapore.