19th round of TPP trade talks to start with focus on tariffs

The 19th round of negotiations to create a Trans-Pacific free trade pact will begin later this month in Brunei, with talks on tariff eliminations expected to gain momentum.

For Japan, which joined the 12-member Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations from the tail end of the Malaysia round last month, the upcoming round from Aug. 22 to 30 will mark the beginning of full-fledged participation.

Tokyo is sending a delegation of more than 100 members with the goal of boosting exports of manufactured goods by eliminating tariffs imposed by other countries, while retaining those it levies on imports of rice and four other key products.

During the 9-day round in Bandar Seri Begawan, TPP members will hold bilateral sessions to present their requests and offers on reduction and eliminations of tariffs for each other.

Ministers of the countries will hold their own meetings in the first two days of the round to give a push toward an early conclusion of the talks. For Japan's part, TPP minister Akira Amari is scheduled to attend the sessions.

With the talks already more than three years old, the TPP members have been aiming to conclude a deal by the end of this year, but multiple officials have recently raised doubts about whether they can meet the deadline.

Negotiations on key topics, such as market access covering tariffs and intellectual property regulations apparently made little progress by the previous round, prompting Japanese officials to note that the country still has plenty of opportunity to have its say reflected in the outcome.

In the tariff negotiations, Tokyo aims to first show its readiness to bring the percentage of tariff-free items to around 70 to 80 percent of the total and raise the ratio later depending on the responses.

Under the 13 existing FTAs concluded by Japan, the percentage of items on which Tokyo agreed to eliminate tariffs within 10 years falls between 84.4 percent and 88.4 percent of total tariff lines.

If Japan agrees to abolish all tariffs other than those on its five key items -- rice, wheat, beef and pork (counted as one), dairy products and sugar -- it would account for 93.5 percent of its total tariff lines.

The 19th TPP round will be held after a series of meetings for economic integration, including the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership free trade talks and the meeting between five nations around the Mekong River and Japan.

As many of the RCEP trade talks members -- Australia, Brunei, Malaysia, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore and Vietnam -- overlap with those for the TPP, the outcome of the RCEP talks could affect TPP rule-making as well. Other TPP countries are Canada, Chile, Mexico, Peru and the United States.

With all 12 countries combined, they account for nearly 40 percent of global economic output and about a third of world trade, despite not having China as a member.

The addition of Japan to the TPP membership has significantly boosted the economic weight of the initiative but is also expected to complicate the power balance among the members of the framework that has been strongly influenced by the United States.

Earlier this month, Japan held the first round of bilateral negotiations with the United States on key issues related to the envisioned free trade pact. The talks, held in parallel to the main TPP talks, covered autos and nontariff barriers including those in the insurance sector but did not include tariffs.