Prospect of TPP agreement in Singapore "unclear": Japan minister

Japan's minister in charge of talks for the Trans-Pacific Partnership initiative said Friday it is "unclear" whether 12 countries will be able to reach a broad agreement at a ministerial meeting in Singapore next week, although there has been progress.

"It is true that gaps have narrowed on each issue" at a chief negotiators' meeting that wrapped up Thursday in Vietnam, but "it is unclear if that can lead to a deal" at the Singapore talks on Monday and Tuesday," Akira Amari said at a press conference.

At the outset of a Cabinet meeting on the TPP on Friday morning, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the upcoming ministerial gathering will be "crucial for an early conclusion of the negotiations."

Abe also said the United States and Japan, the biggest economies in the TPP, are accelerating discussions with all the other TPP countries after Tokyo and Washington moved closer over thorny issues through intensive bilateral negotiations in late April.

The two sides, however, have yet to resolve bilateral issues involving market access for agricultural products and autos that have held up broad negotiations. Amari and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman are expected to resume bilateral talks in Singapore.