No final deal on Pacific trade pact expected next week

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Pacific trading partners are not expecting to reach a final agreement on an ambitious free trade pact at a ministerial meeting in Singapore next week, a senior U.S. official said on Tuesday.

A U.S.-Japan summit last month had shaken the two countries free of a stalemate over access to Japan's farm and auto markets in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), but more work was needed before a broad agreement could be reached, the official said.

The deadlock between Japan and the United States, the biggest economies in the 12-nation TPP, has held up progress on the wider trade agreement in recent months as other countries awaited the outcome of the negotiations.

TPP negotiators, from countries including Canada, Australia, Mexico and Malaysia, are in Vietnam this week for another round of negotiations and ministers will meet on May 19-20 in Singapore.

"We will make sure we are on the same page and then give instructions to our teams to get back to work and work through the remaining issues," the senior official said.

"This is a check-in meeting. This is not a ministerial where we expect to reach a final agreement."

The senior U.S. official, who asked not to be named, said the next stage of TPP negotiations involved other countries also sitting down to work out market access issues with Japan.

Once it was clear what each country could get from the deal in terms of exports, it would be time to focus on setting common rules on issues such as labor, the environment and intellectual property, he said at a briefing for journalists.

The U.S. official also urged China to show leadership on an agreement to eliminate duties on billions of dollars of technology products, which will be under discussion at a meeting of Asia-Pacific trade ministers in China this weekend.

The United States, China, the European Union and nearly two dozen other countries are negotiating an expansion of the World Trade Organization's Information Technology Agreement (ITA), a 16-year-old pact that eliminated duties on a long list of products including personal computers, laptops and telephones.

The United States and Europe have blamed China, the world's biggest exporter of IT products, for derailing the technology talks by asking for too many exemptions from the deal.

A positive attitude from China toward the ITA could help convince critics of the merits of a bilateral investment treaty (BIT) with the United States.

"If you are China and you are interested in having a bilateral investment treaty, you want to have strong constituencies of support, and a positive outcome on ITA is a potential positive contributor to that outcome," the official said.

But there was still a long way to go on the investment treaty negotiations, given China's list of sectors it wanted to be exempt. "Right now the negative list is enormous and they know that it's got to be shrunk to be meaningful," he said.

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