TPP talks kick off in Malaysia as Japan awaits debut

The 18th round of the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade negotiations began Monday in Malaysia as Japan prepares to make its debut near the end of the 11-day round.

Japan's participation will not come until July 23, when the United States, the leading economy of the TPP, completes the domestic procedure of giving its Congress 90 days' notice to start trade negotiations with Japan.

The session of the working group on market access covering tariff elimination, a crucial issue Tokyo has been seeking to negotiate, is expected to finish before Japan gets to the negotiation table after a four-month wait since announcing its intention to participate in the talks.

But July 25, the last day of the round in the Malaysian resort of Kota Kinabalu, will be devoted to Japan, with top negotiators of other TPP countries giving the country updates on the status of the negotiations that have entered their fourth year, likely giving Japan a chance to state its position.

With Japan's participation, TPP countries would account for nearly 40 percent of global GDP and about one-third of all world trade, even without China as a member.

Japan is aiming to retain its tariffs on key farm products such as rice and beef, while eliminating import duties imposed on Japanese automobiles and other manufactured goods.

The TPP negotiations comprise 21 working groups on 29 chapters including investment and government procurement.

Malaysia recently released a brief document on the TPP stating "negotiations on technical and less contentious issues are considered substantially closed" in 14 of the 29 chapters, while "there are still outstanding issues that are sensitive and will require discussion at a later stage of the negotiations."

Member countries are seeking a basic agreement by October and to conclude a deal by the end of the year, although some speculate that the talks could fall behind schedule.

As each member country has sensitive sectors, the negotiations are likely to become more difficult as they progress.

Japan's belated participation could also complicate the negotiations, as the country is seeking to keep some farm products exempt from the free trade deal's general rule of tariff elimination.

Regarding tariff negotiations, the United States is seeking to protect its sugar industry, while Canada aims to protect its dairy products.

The TPP negotiations currently involve Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam.