Next TPP trade round set for July 15-25, Japan to join near end

The eleven countries involved in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade negotiations agreed to hold the next round of talks in Kuala Lumpur from July 15 to 25 as they concluded their 17th round of talks in Lima on Friday.

After reaching agreements in some key fields, the United States and 10 other TPP members said at the end of the 10-day meeting they have decided to extend the next round by one day to July 25 to include Japan as the 12th member of the talks.

Japan's trade minister Toshimitsu Motegi indicated earlier in the day his country can only join from the afternoon of July 23 upon completion of the 90-day period for the United States to notify Congress to admit Japan.

That leaves Japan with only a limited time frame of three days of discussions in its debut round, during which it will seek to secure its national interest. Member countries aim to conclude a deal by the end of the year.

Speaking at a press conference on Friday, Peruvian chief negotiator Edgar Vasquez said it had been difficult to get all 11 countries to agree on adding even one day to the schedule, whereas Japan had sought to have the round extended by two days or more.

With the U.S. domestic procedure still under way, Japan could not take part in the latest Peru round either, despite gaining the unanimous backing of the members last month.

Still, Tokyo sees there are opportunities to have its say reflected in the rule-making as discussions on some of the key fields, including market access, have apparently made little progress.

Vasquez said the TPP countries have made significant progress in the fields of e-commerce, customs and rules of origin in the latest round and indicated they have effectively reached agreements on nearly half of the fields on the negotiation table.

But he also said more time is required in the negotiations on market access, handling of intellectual property and state-owned enterprises as well as the environment.

Speaking to the press earlier Friday in Tokyo, Japan's economic revitalization minister Akira Amari, who doubles as the TPP minister, said Japan can "assume the offensive" in negotiations for fields such as market access as they have yet to reach the final stages.

Market access negotiations, which cover tariffs on farm products that are key Japanese interests, have made slow progress in previous rounds as each country adopts a cautious attitude when it comes to lowering or eliminating tariffs for protecting its key industries.

Japan has retained high tariffs on rice, beef and other farm products and seeks to keep them as an exception to the TPP rule of tariff elimination.

That intention is at odds with Australia, a major exporter of beef and dairy products, and the United States, which seeks to liberalize trade in rice.

Some officials of the TPP countries have expressed concern over the impact of Japan's participation, saying the negotiations could be prolonged as they make adjustments to their negotiation strategies to prepare for the participation of the world's third largest economy.

At the end of the Peru round, TPP countries reiterated their aim to conclude the negotiations within this year and said they believed Japan shares that aim as well.

Although not a member yet, Japan has sent senior bureaucrats to approach negotiators of other countries and obtain information as it seeks to gain insights into the ongoing debates.

The 11 existing members of the TPP negotiations are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.