TPP members remain apart over contentious issues

Countries involved in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade negotiations remained apart over thorny issues, including tariff removal and intellectual property rights, despite efforts to overcome differences 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.

Akira Amari, Japan's minister in charge of TPP negotiations, and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman discussed the issues on Saturday as well, but they moved no closer.

Earlier Monday, Amari told reporters that he will make utmost efforts to reach an in-principle agreement, adding that resolving the Japan-U.S. issues is a "mandatory requirement" to bring the broader negotiations to a successful conclusion.

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.

The 12 Pacific Rim countries will also try to move forward negotiations on intellectual property rights, with the United States 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 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.