PETALING JAYA: The Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) is being pursued as a “collective effort” by its 12 member nations and is not dominated by the United States alone, according to US trade representative ambassador Michael Froman.
“This is a collective effort. There is no ‘US template’ being imposed on other countries.
“We are trying to achieve a balanced outcome. It’s not just the United States that’s driving the conversation.
“Multiple ideas are coming from multiple parties. For example, Canada has taken the lead on the environment chapter and Singapore on intellectual property (IP) rights,” he told journalists after a series of meetings with key Malaysian government officials on Tuesday.
Froman, who is on his fourth trip here to discuss the TPPA, said he had spoken with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and the trade, health and housing ministers, among others.
The TPPA, poised to be the world’s largest free trade agreement and its most ambitious yet, covers 40% of global trade and over 60% of US exports.
The twelve countries in the TPPA are the United States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.
But a swift conclusion to the landmark agreement, a cornerstone of Obama’s trade agenda, is being hampered by a deadlock between the US and Japan, the main negotiators and the two largest economies in the TPPA, on politically-sensitive issues such as market access for the automotive and agriculture sectors.
Negotiators have also yet to reach a consensus on chapters involving IP rights, the environment, and state-owned enterprises.
Malaysia, Froman said, citing data from the independent think tank the Peterson Institute for International Economics, was set to be the No 2 beneficiary of the TPPA after Vietnam in terms of increased exports and gross domestic product.
Under the TPPA, Malaysia and the other member states stand to gain access to a potential US$12 trillion (RM38 trillion) single market for goods, services and capital, provided they can eliminate long-held trade barriers and protectionism.
Najib had said in May that Malaysia would not be a signatory to the TPPA if the terms were not in its favour, especially for domestic policies such as affirmative action.
“The (Malaysian) Government has made it clear how important bumiputra policies are economically and socially. We recognise that and would like to be flexible and accommodate those interests in line with the overall objectives of TPPA.
“We are aware of and sensitive to the issues that have been raised, and we want to find balanced solutions,” Froman said.
He added that the TPPA discussions have gathered “huge positive momentum” and that all parties could come to an agreement by the end of the year.
“Eleven months ago in Brunei there were 125 open issues in the IP chapter alone. It remains one of the most challenging issues to close, but we’re now down to a dozen issues.”
Obama, who is pressing for an agreement by year-end, will make another trip to Asia in November. His presence in the region is expected to be an impetus to speed up talks.
The TPPA has been criticised for its secrecy and apparent favouring of large multinationals.
Earlier this week, a former World Trade Organisation (WTO) official said the TPPA was a step backwards to the days when the US and Europe held sway over global trade.
Ex-WTO director-general Supachai Panitchpakdi called the TPPA a “US-centric” deal, urging Asian member states to pursue regional integration with China and India instead.
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