TPP-11 Negotiators Consider Potential Options, Schedule October Session

28 September 2017

Negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP-11, resumed late last week in Tokyo, Japan, as officials debated a series of proposed options for advancing the accord before key meetings in October and November.

Officials are pushing to have a menu of options for their ministers and leaders to consider when they meet in Vietnam in November. To that end, they confirmed last week that they will be holding another meeting in Japan next month to facilitate that process.

Going into last week’s talks in Japan, countries were expected to bring forward any additional suggestions for any substantive changes they would like to see in the accord. While there is a TPP text, the withdrawal of the US earlier this year has sparked interest in some signatories to revise certain aspects of the deal.

“Those benefits, by consequence of the fact of the US withdrawal, have changed the metrics of the deal. That's meant that for the 11 remaining countries, we've had to look again at what the deal will actually look like,” said Australian Trade Minister Steven Ciobo last week ahead of the talks.

He also suggested that how those talks proceed will determine whether the TPP-11 advances.

“If we can arrive at a common point, among the 11 of us, then that'll be terrific. If we can't, well then the deal won't fly. But certainly at this point in time, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Japan, are working very hard to try to conclude a good quality deal,” he told reporters in Jakarta on 20 September, according to a transcript provided by his office.

Substantive debate, domestic elections

Over the past few months, the debate over how much to preserve the deal’s original substance and what to put on hold has deepened, with some countries, such as Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and Singapore reportedly aiming to keep most of it intact.

Some other TPP signatories have been pushing for substantive revisions, given the change in balance within the deal now that the US is no longer on board.

"The debate intensified as requests from every country got integrated," said Kazuyoshi Umemoto, Japan's chief negotiator, in comments to the Nikkei Asian Review after the meeting. He later told reporters that there were “significant advances,” though more work remains.

“The basic idea is that we would like the United States to come back as soon as possible, which would mean the original TPP would have to be ratified,” Umemoto told Reuters, explaining that negotiators are looking at which parts to “freeze” in order for that to occur.

The requests for substantive changes to the existing TPP text were reportedly divided into three sections: legal matters for bringing the TPP-11 into force; intellectual property protections, including on pharmaceuticals; and miscellaneous other items, according to sources quoted in Nikkei.

The list of individual items within these sections had numbered around 80 items before the meeting, but was reportedly reduced to 50, with the goal of slashing that number further. Other high-profile items said to be under review are the deal’s terms on investor-state dispute settlement and government procurement market access.

Of these three broad areas, legal matters and intellectual property were reported to be relatively advanced, while others still require more work, partly due to the timing of some more recent requests. 

TPP leaders are set to meet along the sidelines of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders’ Week in Vietnam this November. In the intervening weeks, some domestic political changes may take place among TPP signatories, which some analysts say could have implications for the negotiating dynamics.

New Zealand held national elections last weekend, with no party winning an outright majority, leaving the two largest political parties now working to build coalitions with other legislators to see which one can garner the necessary support to form a government. How to address the TPP-11 was one issue that already emerged as a point of contention during the pre-election debates between the Labour and National parties.

Meanwhile, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced on Monday 25 September that he would be calling for a snap election to take place next month. How this would affect the TPP-11 process remains unclear. The Japanese premier is currently expected to win the 22 October polls, and has long advocated for the TPP as part of the structural reform pillar of his three-pronged “Abenomics” agenda.

ICTSD reporting; “TPP trade talks remain stymied over which provisions to delay,” THE JAPAN NEWS, 23 September 2017; “Without U.S., 11 nations in TPP inch closer to a deal,” REUTERS, 22 September, 2017; “’TPP 11’ talks set parameters for moving forward,” NIKKEI, 23 September 2017; “National Party stays on top in NZ election, though still shy of majority,” NIKKEI, 24 September 2017; “Japan’s PM Shinzō Abe calls snap election,” THE GUARDIAN, 25 September, 2017.

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