Del­e­gates ne­go­ti­at­ing a vast Pa­cific free-trade agree­ment have failed to reach a fi­nal deal af­ter sev­eral days of in­tense talks in Hawaii, deal­ing a set­back to US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama.

The de­lay com­pli­cates his ef­forts this year to se­cure the his­toric ac­cord, which risks be­com­ing dragged into the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion de­bate.

US Trade Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Michael Fro­man, in a state­ment late Fri­day on be­half of the 12 coun­tries in­volved in the talks on the is­land of Maui, in­sisted that sig­nif­i­cant progress had been made on the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship (TPP) agree­ment, the most am­bi­tious trade deal in decades.

"Af­ter more than a week of pro­duc­tive meet­ings we've made sig­nif­i­cant progress and will con­tinue on re­solv­ing a lim­ited num­ber of re­main­ing is­sues, paving the way for the con­clu­sion of the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship ne­go­ti­a­tions," Fro­man told a press con­fer­ence.

Ne­go­tia­tors were "more con­fi­dent than ever that the TPP is within reach," he said, adding that the Pa­cific Rim coun­tries would con­tinue bi­lat­eral dis­cus­sions to try and iron out re­main­ing dif­fer­ences.

Al­ready eight years in the mak­ing, TPP would be a huge bloc en­com­pass­ing 40 per­cent of global trade and part of Obama's much-vaunted "pivot" to­wards Asia in the face of an in­creas­ingly as­sertive China, which is not in­cluded in TPP. The press con­fer­ence was de­layed sev­eral hours as the coun­tries at­tempted to thrash out a deal in what had been billed as the home stretch. The fail­ure by trade min­is­ters to wrap the ac­cord Fri­day was a blow to

up Obama -- who faces op­po­si­tion to the deal from fel­low Democrats -- as it could see the TPP be­come cam­paign fod­der ahead of Novem­ber 2016 elec­tions. "This set­back to the TPP in Maui shifts the mo­men­tum in the na­tional de­bate," said House Demo­crat and ac­cord op­po­nent Rosa DeLauro.

"The im­passe high­lights very trou­bling is­sues for any­one con­cerned about the fu­ture of the Amer­i­can mid­dle class."

The TPP coun­tries -- Aus­tralia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Ja­pan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Sin­ga­pore, Viet­nam and the US -- have faced crit­i­cism for car­ry­ing out their ne­go­ti­a­tions in what op­po­nents have charged is in­tense se­crecy.

Its many crit­ics say the pro­pos­als in­di­cate a deal mov­ing more to­ward pro­tec­tion than free trade; one more about cor­po­rate ben­e­fits than boost­ing economies and de­vel­op­ment. But back­ers say the mod­ern global econ­omy needs new rules of the road to pro­tect in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty-de­pen­dent 21st cen­tury in­dus­tries not cov­ered in tra­di­tional free-trade fo­rums like the World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion. Trade min­is­ters were keen to talk up the pos­i­tives. "Good progress was made this week, but a num­ber of chal­leng­ing is­sues re­main, in­clud­ing in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty and mar­ket ac­cess for dairy prod­ucts," said New Zealand's Tim Groser, touch­ing on two of the out­stand­ing sen­si­tive is­sues.

Akira Amari, Ja­pan's min­is­ter in charge of TPP ne­go­ti­a­tions, told re­porters it would take another min­is­te­rial-level meet­ing to clinch the deal.

"Ac­cord­ing to my un­der­stand­ing, it is our com­mon view that we will hold a meet­ing by the end of Au­gust," Amari said, ac­cord­ing to public broad­caster NHK. "If we can't con­clude it next time, it's go­ing to be very hard."

Aus­tralian Min­is­ter for Trade and In­vest­ment An­drew Robb said they were "on the cusp," with "pro­vi­sional de­ci­sions on more than 90 per­cent of is­sues."

Sev­eral prickly is­sues were be­lieved to have held up the talks this week, in­clud­ing dif­fer­ences over agri­cul­tural mar­kets, auto trade and pro­tec­tion for drug-mak­ers. Also un­der ne­go­ti­a­tion are bet­ter copy­right pro­tec­tion, work­ers rights and en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tions.

Law­mak­ers who wrote the leg­is­la­tion giv­ing the US Congress a fi­nal up-or­down vote on TPP were cau­tiously up­beat about the latest round. "While our trade ne­go­tia­tors were able to make sig­nif­i­cant progress this week, it is im­por­tant that the United States stood firm to en­sure Amer­ica se­cures the best deal from our in­ter­na­tional trad­ing part­ners," Repub­li­can Se­nate Fi­nance Com­mit­tee chair­man Or­rin Hatch said. But de­lays could put trade front and cen­ter in the elec­tion de­bate.

"Un­less some­thing hap­pens it might get pushed to 2016 and be­come an is­sue that all can­di­dates for pres­i­dent, for Se­nate, for the House are go­ing to con­tend with more di­rectly in the races," Justin Krebs, cam­paign di­rec­tor for MoveOn.org Civic Ac­tion which is part of the anti-TPP coali­tion, told AFP. "That just gives the grow­ing pro­gres­sive move­ment and the grow­ing anti-cor­po­rate move­ment more time to make a case." Most of the 17 Repub­li­can can­di­dates have sig­nalled their back­ing for Obama's trade push.

Demo­cratic fron­trun­ner Hil­lary Clin­ton is sit­ting on the fence, while her top nom­i­na­tion ri­vals Bernie San­ders and Martin O'Malley are op­posed.

US Trade Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Michael Fro­man, in a state­ment on be­half of the 12 coun­tries in­volved, in­sisted that "sig­nif­i­cant progress" had been made on the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship (TPP) agree­ment.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Pakistan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.