TPP talks crippled by inherent problems

Updated: 2013-10-08 11:00


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BEIJING -- Member states of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) wrapped up a three-day ministerial meeting Sunday in a rather low key on the Indonesian resort island of Bali.

In sharp contrast to the fanfare and media frenzy about the TPP in some member countries three days ago, the gathering, parallel to a ministerial meeting of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation, ended hastily without any substantial progress.

The disappointing result was mainly caused by the regional trade agreement's inherent problems, such as Washington's dominance and inequality among its members.

Prior to the meeting, some media reports predicted that TPP member states might reach consensus "in principle" at a later summit, but that prospect was overshadowed by the abrupt absence of US President Barack Obama due to his government shutdown.

It seems that the TPP, widely considered as an important part of the Obama administration's "Pivot to Asia" policy, is unable to function properly without the US leader.

The TPP talks are seen as a free trade negotiation with the highest threshold, covering 21 different areas, such as tariffs, trade facilitation, government procurement, intellectual property right protection and e-commerce.

Currently, TPP members have yet to reach basic consensus on most of the areas, which are too sensitive to be resolved by technocrats. Heads of state have to find a solution based on their political judgement and compromise.

However, Obama's abrupt absence made emerging and developing economies participating in the talks, which are dissatisfied with the U.S. dominance in the trade agreement, less likely to make early concessions.

Parties to the TPP talks are also APEC members. The TPP and other regional free trade negotiations should integrate rather than undercut each other.

Just as APEC members put it in a joint statement of their ministerial meeting, APEC should continue to excise strong leadership and play a major role in the region's economic integration.