The Business Times
Monday, Mar 04, 2013
SINGAPORE will host the 16th round of Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade negotiations from Monday with expectations high that the grouping is on track to wrap up talks by the end of this year.
These meetings, three years after the first round of negotiations were held in Melbourne, will be attended by over 600 delegates from the 11 TPP member countries - Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, the United States, Vietnam and Singapore.
The TPP, an ongoing free trade agreement (FTA) involving these 11 nations drawing from Apec member countries, was set a target of completion of October 2013 by the leaders of these countries and, although substantial progress in negotiations have been achieved, there is a high expectation among member countries that Singapore's chairmanship of this critical round of negotiations will help realise this completion target.
On Thursday, Jose Fernandez, US Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs, told BT he was confident that Singapore will help ensure that next week's TPP round of talks held here will achieve significant progress as chair of the discussion rounds.
It is in Singapore's strategic interest to participate in the TPP with the 11 members at present having a combined GDP of about US$21 trillion, which is over half of the total GDP of Apec's 21 members.
In 2012, the TPP countries accounted for S$132 billion, or over a quarter of Singapore's total goods exports, and so the TPP will allow Singapore to engage these substantial trading partners even more deeply by potentially securing additional market access. In addition, the TPP will include Mexico and Canada - two countries with which Singapore currently does not have any bilateral FTAs.
Moreover, the TPP is expected to eventually include all Apec members and be a possible pathway to be a free trade area of the Asia-Pacific. If that happens, the agreement will cover 2.7 billion people and a combined GDP of almost US$39 trillion - 40 per cent of the world's population and more than half of global GDP.
BT understands that Singapore will want to step up the pace of the talks. The key issues on the table this time round are the question of membership of the TPP and what will happen in October this year.
Japan, in particular, had raised an interest to join the TPP back in 2010 when it was the chair of Apec. The US is expected to update the other members of the outcome of its recent bilateral meeting with Japan, where the topic of TPP membership would have been discussed.
Although Japan is not formally participating in this round of discussions as it is not a member, BT understands that there will be a sizeable Japanese media delegation in town to cover the talks and perhaps in anticipation that their government may announce a decision to apply for membership after all.
The Apec leaders' meeting will also be held in October and typically, the ministers of countries involved with the TPP would meet at the sidelines of this summit and thus, the targets have been set to conclude negotiations by then.
BT understands that the topics to be discussed in this round include customs, telecommunications and government procurement, as more than 20 working groups meet here from the March 4 to 13 at the Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel.
In addition, there will be a Stakeholder's Forum on March 6 where 300 stakeholders, comprising business representatives, academics and non-governmental organisations from around the world, have registered to take part in the event. One-third of the registered participants are from Singapore, with another one-third coming from the US.
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