TPP Talk: Long days and nights in Singapore

Column – Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade

The Singapore round of TPP negotiations, held in late March, showed that the talks are moving into a more intense phase. We have already briefed a number of interested groups here in Wellington, but for those we haven’t managed to talk to, we thought …TPP Talk: Long days and nights in Singapore

16 May 2011 by Sarah Lovegrove

The Singapore round of TPP negotiations, held in late March, showed that the talks are moving into a more intense phase. We have already briefed a number of interested groups here in Wellington, but for those we haven’t managed to talk to, we thought it would be useful to post a snapshot of the round.

In addition to extending the round beyond the usual five days, a number of working groups met in the evenings in order to make the best use of time. New Zealand was represented by an inter-agency team, led by MFAT and including experts from MED, MAF, Treasury, Labour, Environment and Customs. Those of us who had attended previous rounds were impressed by the level of energy and intensity in Singapore, and by the progress made as a result.

Most working groups are now working from a full set of text proposals, although there are a few key proposals yet to come. This is a welcome development from the initial phase of the negotiation, where time was spent gaining valuable understanding of each country’s interests and approaches. Many working groups have prepared “consolidated” draft texts that bring together the various text proposals and have started negotiations on those texts to reconcile variations in the wording of particular concepts and identify issues where there are larger policy differences.

Preliminary discussions took place on initial offers for services and investment, government procurement and product-specific rules of origin (the rules that apply to individual products at the tariff line level), and tariff offers were discussed further. These initial offers, along with requests for improvements in tariff offers, had been exchanged before the Singapore round.

There were productive discussions in Singapore on detailed proposals on “horizontal issues” such as regulatory coherence (where the aim is to create an environment where companies can operate as seamlessly as possible throughout the region) and small and medium-sized enterprises, with ideas emerging that would offer real benefits to traders and investors. Those of us who sat in on the innovative discussions we had with stakeholders in Auckland in December were struck by how far things had moved when we saw these ideas reflected in the concrete proposals on the table in Singapore.

Stakeholder engagement has been a feature of TPP rounds since San Francisco. In Singapore negotiators again spent time with stakeholders, sharing information about the negotiation and hearing their views. There was a half-day Sunday stakeholder forum where a variety of stakeholders, including an academic panel, made presentations on their areas of interest, which included textiles and apparel, international mobile roaming charges and alternative views on intellectual property issues. There were strong turn-outs for chief negotiators’ stakeholder and media briefings and a reception for stakeholders and delegates, along with a specific labour stakeholder programme.

Negotiators are now back in New Zealand and work is underway on the large amount of “homework” to be done before the next round. In some cases, requests and revised market access offers will be exchanged before the next round. For services and investment, efforts are focused on gaining a better understanding of each country’s offer, so we will be exchanging questions and clarifications. New Zealand is also working as part of smaller sub-groups of countries to come up with refined proposals on certain parts of the chapter text. In addition to the tasks we have agreed to with the group, we will be undertaking further domestic consultation in a number of areas including intellectual property (keep an eye on the main TPP page for more details).

The sixth round of negotiations will be held in Ho Chi Minh City from 20 to 24 June. New Zealand stakeholders and media who are interested in receiving information about stakeholder opportunities as it becomes available can contact us to register their interest.

ENDS

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