Japan, 11 countries start 19th TPP free trade talks in Brunei

Twelve Pacific Rim countries began the 19th round of negotiations for creating a regional free trade pact in Brunei on Thursday, with Japan engaging in full-fledged talks on tariffs and other issues for the first time after joining last month.

Marking the start of the nine-day round of the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, a ministerial meeting opened in the morning as the countries sought to facilitate the talks toward their target of concluding a deal within this year.

"We will take into account the circumstances of each country and still raise the level" of trade liberalization, Japan's TPP minister Akira Amari told reporters shortly before the meeting.

Amari also said Tokyo will cooperate toward concluding the talks by the year-end deadline.

While the negotiations extend to 21 fields, the latest round only deals with 10 of them, including how to deal with intellectual property rights, state-owned enterprises and tariffs, according to Japanese officials.

Lim Jock Seng, Brunei's second minister for foreign affairs and trade, said at the opening of the ministerial meeting he hopes countries will "engage constructively on the remaining issues that are on the negotiating table so that we can report positive progress to our leaders."

Ministers and minister-level officials of the United States and other TPP countries are holding bilateral sessions in addition to the overall ministerial meeting for the first two days of the round, followed by sessions among chief negotiators and negotiators through the end of the round.

Amari will be meeting with his counterparts from Brunei, Malaysia and Mexico in the afternoon and with those of Canada, Vietnam, Singapore and New Zealand on Friday.

The 12 TPP countries -- Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam -- together account for nearly 40 percent of global economic output and about a third of world trade.

Tokyo sent a delegation of about 120 members to Brunei after the country jumped into the TPP talks from the tail end of the Malaysia round in late July.

The Japanese government under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been seeking to help the country's economy by boosting exports through free trade agreements, but it also faces strong domestic pressure to retain high tariffs it levies on imports of rice and four other key products to protect domestic industry in the TPP negotiations.

During the latest round through Aug. 30, member countries are expected to present their requests and offers regarding tariffs in bilateral sessions.

Japan is expected to hold such sessions with all TPP countries except for the United States, the leading TPP economy, as the U.S. trade representative has said Washington cannot table its offer until September after it finishes assessing the economic impact of eliminating its tariffs on Japanese products.