Negotiators are “very close” to completing a US-led Pacific trade pact this year, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said ahead of a crucial meeting in the city-state this weekend.
Trade ministers from 12 countries will meet from Saturday to Tuesday in a bid to iron out kinks in the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) after negotiators failed to meet a self-imposed deadline to strike a deal by the end of last year.
“I think we are very close to completing it,” Lee said in an interview with Chinese media group Caixin.
“I think, nothwithstanding the previous missed targets, I think they are trying very hard, and we ought to be able to close this year,” Lee said.
Trade ministers from Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam are reconvening in Singapore after ending talks in December with several issues still unresolved.
The 12 countries, which make up 40% of the global economy, have been divided on a number of issues, including opening up Japan’s auto and farm markets as well as limiting the role of state-owned enterprises in the economy.
US President Barack Obama’s administration has put a high priority on the TPP, seeing it as tying the United States more firmly to the dynamic Asia-Pacific region at a time that China’s clout is rising.
Singapore’s Lee warned against a failure to reach a deal this year.
“If we don’t close this year, there is not much time left on the American political calendar to get it through Congress and to settle the matter,” he said.
“And when time passes, loose ends get unravelled and then it would be a setback.”
Lee said he hoped the US Congress would pass a Bill that would empower the Obama administration to negotiate major trade agreements that the US legislature could approve or reject - without making changes. — AFP