US hopeful of Asia trade deal by year-end, eyes Dec meeting
The United States expressed hope on Tuesday it could seal an ambitious trade pact by year-end despite resistance from some countries and the absence of President Barack Obama from a regional summit that was to iron out differences on it.
Members of the U.S.-proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) said after a meeting that "negotiators should now proceed to resolve all outstanding issues with the objective of completing this year a comprehensive and balanced, regional agreement."
Three-year-old TPP talks, now involving 12 nations, are aimed at establishing a free-trade bloc that would stretch from Vietnam to Chile to Japan, encompassing 800 million people, about a third of world trade and nearly 40 percent of the global economy.
The TPP meeting on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Bali, Indonesia, included leaders from Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam and the United States.
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key chaired the TPP meeting after Obama cancelled his trip to the summit to deal with a budget crisis that has shut down the U.S. government. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stood in for Obama.
U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said on Tuesday that world trade ministers may discuss the TPP on the sidelines of a World Trade Organization meeting that starts on Dec. 3, with a goal of reaching a deal by year-end.
But several outstanding issues remain, he told reporters at the APEC summit, citing issues ranging from intellectual property to state-owned enterprises, labor and the environment. The World Trade meeting will also be held on Bali.
"I think there is a consensus that there has been substantial progress on outstanding issues and there are still remaining issues that must be addressed," Froman told reporters.
Later, a senior U.S. administration official acknowledged that the end-year target for completing the trade talks may slide into next year.
"As always the substance drives the timetable," the official told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity. "None of us are here to agree to a bad agreement simply to meet a deadlines. The collective view is that it is ambitious but doable."
A major goal of the Obama administration, the TPP would tear down trade barriers in areas such as government procurement and set standards for workers' rights, environmental protection and intellectual property rights.
Obama had hoped to settle outstanding issues in discussions with other leaders at the APEC meeting but was forced to cancel his visit because of the fiscal standoff and partial government shutdown in Washington.