US: ‘Important Progress’ Achieved at Pacific Trade Talks

Posted July 11th, 2012 at 1:05 pm (UTC-5)
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The U.S. says that “important progress” has been achieved during the latest round of talks aimed at crafting a wide-ranging trade pact with eight other Pacific nations.

The countries concluded their 13th round of negotiations on Tuesday in the western U.S. city of San Diego. U.S. trade officials said “particularly significant” progress was made on dealing with customs regulations, cross-border services, telecommunications and government purchases.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership scheduled another negotiating session in September outside Washington, with Canada and Mexico slated to join the talks in coming months. Besides the U.S., the partnership now includes Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

The office of U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said the talks advanced in 20 areas under negotiation. U.S. President Barack Obama has said that a pact with the Pacific nations is a trade priority, which he sees as a way to cut into the unending U.S. trade deficit and boost the country's sluggish labor market.

One trade expert, Gary Hufbauer of the Petersen Institute for International Economics in Washington, told VOA that after three years of talks, officials had hoped to wrap up an agreement this year. He said that timetable seems unrealistic, although an agreement could be reached next year and ratified in 2014.

He said the outcome of the U.S. presidential election between Mr. Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney is unlikely to make much difference in the outcome of the talks since both have said they favor the new trade pact.

But Hufbauer said tough negotiations remain.

“Other countries want us to liberalize some agricultural products which have long not been liberalized, dairy products, sugar, beef, they also want us to liberalize our barriers on clothing, textiles, footware, other things which have been difficult for us, and they also want us to liberalize services which have not been liberalized, for example, government procurement of services like contract for data processing and so on.”

Hufbauer said the U.S. is not alone in having to confront difficult issues on specific products and that reaching an agreement will not be easy.

“Those are sensitive issues for us, but every country has its sensitive issues and to reach agreement on those is not easy, as you can imagine.”