16 Jul 2013 07:54

KOTA KINABALU, July 16 (Bernama)-- The 18th round of Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade talks started Monday here, with Japan expected to be given the first, though limited, opportunity to join efforts to work out an ambitious trade deal, Japan's Jiji Press reported.

Japan is sending a 100-member delegation, led by Deputy Foreign Minister Koji Tsuruoka, to the talks with 11 countries, which Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has described as key negotiations to protect Japan's national interests.

Japan is expected to make its debut in the TPP talks on the afternoon of July 23, upon completion of US procedures to approve of Japanese membership, and to participate in less than three days of the latest round of negotiations, which is scheduled to end on July 25.

In the US-led TPP talks, which started in March 2010, discussions on accord provisions setting out trade liberalization rules and principles are taking place in parallel with negotiations on market access, according to informed sources.

On the highly contentious issue of tariff removal for merchandise trade, talks have mostly been held on a bilateral basis as there is no common negotiating framework encompassing all of the 11 existing participants, the sources said.

Gaining access to details of the TPP discussions for the first time, Japan needs to work quickly to examine the draft agreements and prepare for further talks in order to win exemptions for rice and other sensitive farm produce from tariff elimination and hammer out an accord on strict rules for the protection of intellectual property rights.

The participating countries aim to bring the TPP talks to a successful conclusion by the year's end after the summit meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in October.