Japan, U.S. remain far apart over thorny TPP issues

Japan and the United States remained far apart over thorny issues in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade talks despite the 12 member nations' efforts to reach a broad agreement at a ministerial gathering on Monday, with the prospects for striking a deal by the end of the current session in Singapore not looking good.

On the margins of the four-day ministerial meeting through Tuesday, Tokyo and Washington held their second bilateral talks, seeking to resolve outstanding issues of whether Japan can retain tariffs on its sensitive farm goods and the phase-out period of U.S. auto duties.

"Huge differences still remain" between Tokyo and Washington, Akira Amari, Japan's minister in charge of TPP negotiations, said following the bilateral talks with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman.

"We recognized how far apart we actually are," he told reporters, adding the two sides will continue discussions at the working level.

In a similar vein, Froman told reporters that "gaps remain," adding they will continue to "work and try to bridge the main gaps."

Amari and Froman discussed the issues on Saturday as well.

Japan has been under strong pressure from other negotiating countries, especially the United States, to further open up its agricultural market, as the U.S.-led TPP aims for the abolition of all tariffs in principle.

Amari also said that the 12 Pacific Rim countries are not yet at the stage of announcing a broad agreement on Tuesday, the last day of the gathering. But he added, "We won't know until tomorrow."

According to the minister, the TPP members made "some progress" in the field of intellectual property rights, one of the most contentious areas.

As for intellectual property rights, the United States has been at odds with emerging economies, which fear that access to generic medicines could be restricted if a longer patent protection period for new medicines is adopted.

A negotiation source said there has been some progress also in the field of reform of state-owned enterprises, over which the United States and emerging economies such as Malaysia and Vietnam have been in disagreement, after Washington offered a compromise.

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