Ministers of the 12 countries in the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) free trade negotiations reportedly agreed last week to uphold a basic rule of total tariff elimination in wrapping up their three-day meeting on the Indonesian island of Bali.
The ministers suggested that a deal for advancing talks and starting to implement provisions of the TPPA might be accomplished by year-end, although there were many voices contending that negotiations will stretch beyond the end of 2013.
During their efforts to compile work plans for advancing talks on contentious areas, the ministers discussed market access that covers tariff elimination rules and intellectual property rights among others, despite each country having its own sensitivities.
Contentious areas include market access covered by tariffs, including the elimination of tariffs, and intellectual property rights.
“On Japan's sensitive items, a ruling party lawmaker in charge told reporters after the meeting that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democratic Party [LDP] now plans to study the possibility of eliminating tariffs on the items that have been considered untouchable, including rice,” according to a report by The Malaysian Insider.com.
"We need to consider whether we can take them out or not" from the exceptional items in Japan's negotiation policy—adopted in line with the party's proposal, said Koya Nishikawa, head of the LDP's Trans-Pacific Partnership committee, the news service reported.
"If it doesn't hurt [Japan's agriculture], it would be up to the government to negotiate" and decide policies, Nishikawa was quoted as saying.
All this does not necessarily mean the Japanese have removal in mind. Japan’s addition to the TPP was thought to be a hindrance to completing the TPPA because the Japanese government faces strong domestic pressure to retain tariffs on imports of rice, wheat, beef, pork, dairy products and sugar to protect domestic agriculture.
To speed up the talks that are already over three years old, the member countries are now planning a ministerial meeting in December with hopes of still completing some type of deal by the end of the year.