NEGOTIATORS at the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) talks reported further solid steps forward in closing the remaining gaps during the 15th round of negotiations, which ended Dec. 11.
Their announcement of new progress followed recent discussions between President Barack Obama and the leaders of other TPP countries during which the leaders reaffirmed their mutual priority of concluding a state-of-the-art, comprehensive agreement as quickly as possible and of smoothly integrating the newest members -- Canada and Mexico -- into the negotiations.
Canada and Mexico, the two largest export markets for the U.S., participated in the TPP negotiations for the first time this round.
Over the past several months, the U.S. and the other eight TPP countries -- Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam -- worked with Canada and Mexico as they prepared to join the discussions, and both countries contributed to the progress achieved during this round.
Their participation adds significantly to the economic importance of the agreement as well as to establishing the TPP as the most promising pathway to promote regional economic integration and to support the creation and retention of U.S. jobs, according to a statement from the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR).
During the 10-day round, the 11 delegations concentrated on finding pragmatic and mutually beneficial outcomes to remaining issues under consideration while isolating the outstanding challenges to be addressed in the months ahead.
They furthered their efforts to close the outstanding legal texts of the 29 chapters of the TPP agreement covering all trade and investment-related issues among them, making progress across the agreement, USTR reported.
Since most chapters are far along, the TPP negotiators agreed to work between now and the next round to address the handful of issues still open in such areas as customs, telecommunications, technical barriers to trade, sanitary and phytosanitary issues and other issues and to intensify their efforts on the chapters where the volume of remaining work is more substantial.
Through the TPP, the U.S. is seeking to address new issues that respond to concerns raised by stakeholders and that will enhance U.S. competitiveness in the 21st century and support the expansion of exports, USTR said. The U.S. also is committed to advancing its core values, such as transparency, labor rights and environmental protection.
Further steps forward were also made on goods, services and investment and government procurement during this round; leaders of the TPP countries agreed to comprehensive access to each other's markets in all areas.
TPP member delegations continued to advance their work to develop tariff packages on industrial goods, agriculture and textiles, as well as on rules of origin promoting the development of supply chains that include companies based in the 11 TPP countries.
In addition, they discussed their respective market-opening commitments on services and investment and government procurement. The TPP delegations recognize that further work is needed to meet the goals for a high-standard result in the market access negotiations and set timetables for intersession work that would ensure additional progress at the next round.
On Dec. 7, the TPP negotiations were temporarily adjourned so negotiators could engage with the more than 300 stakeholders registered to join the TPP stakeholder events in Auckland, New Zealand. This included more than 70 stakeholders from virtually all TPP countries who made presentations on a wide range of issues and met informally with TPP negotiators.
Also that day, assistant USTR Barbara Weisel and fellow chief negotiators briefed stakeholders and took questions on the substance and process of the TPP talks.
The 16th round of TPP negotiations will be held March 4-13 in Singapore.