Australia trade minister Andrew Robb left and Myanman ASEAN chair Min Thien Pool, Getty Images

Australia trade minister Andrew Robb, left, chats with Myanman ASEAN chair Min Thien during a meeting last month. Robb has said completion of the TPP could prove difficult.

Pacific Trade Deal Will Be Tough to Close

Australian trade minister Andrew Robb says the Trans-Pacific Partnership is 'still doable' though 'the last few yards are very difficult.'

SYDNEY — Australia’s trade minister said Wednesday that the last negotiating stages of a massive Pacific trade pact were “very difficult,” with the deal more likely to fail when the U.S. presidential election cycle kicks in.

Australia and 11 other Asia-Pacific countries have been negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) — an agreement that would encompass 40% of global trade — for more than five years. The most recent round of talks, billed to be the last, failed to reach an agreement in late July.

“I think it’s still doable,” Andrew Robb told the National Press Club in Canberra. “We did really get very close but ... the last few yards are very difficult.”

Robb said if two key issues — auto trade and dairy — were resolved, it would only take several days of negotiations to seal the deal, but the timing of such agreements was crucial. 

“Canada is into an election already. So there are some complications and the closer we get to a U.S. presidential election, the more prospect of it falling over,” he said. “If we don’t shake on it, my experience in doing deals in business and in government over nearly 40 years is that the chances are it will fall apart. We won’t get back to it.”

Secretary of State John Kerry said last week in Vietnam, one of the nations involved in the negotiations, that he was hopeful of securing a deal by the end of the year. But several major stumbling blocks remain, including differences over agricultural markets, auto trade and protection for drug-makers.

Robb said that while Australia had made a “huge contribution” to the talks, the success of the negotiations depended on bigger players such as the United States, Japan and Mexico.

The United States is the pact’s chief advocate and has said that TPP — which also involves Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam, but not China — would reap benefits beyond economic growth.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2015

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