Tue, May 15, 2012 - Page 10 News List

US eyes state firms in Pacific trade talks

AFP, Washington

The US said on Sunday it wanted rules on state-owned enterprises as part of a Pacific free-trade agreement, but acknowledged differences in negotiations on crafting the deal.

Negotiators from the US and eight other nations were holding talks in Dallas, Texas, on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which advocates hope will form the basis for a sweeping free-trade pact across the region.

The US submitted a proposal to ensure guidelines on state-owned enterprises, saying that such firms should not “undermine the benefits of the agreement,” a US official told reporters on condition of anonymity.

The official acknowledged -“sensitivities” on the issue and that “quite a bit of discussion” lies ahead.

Nations in the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks include -Vietnam, where many key enterprises remain government-run and Singapore, where the major investment firm Temasek Holdings is linked to the state.

The other countries in the talks are Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand and Peru.

The US official said that the latest round of talks produced “excellent progress” and that a number of issues were “within striking distance,” but declined to give specifics or a timeline.

The negotiators discussed the possibility of letting new members into the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks.

Canada, Japan and Mexico have voiced interest, but the issue is deeply controversial in Japan, where farm groups have accused Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda of sacrificing their interests.

The administration of US -President Barack Obama has billed the Trans-Pacific Partnership as a “21st century” trade deal that considers barriers other than tariffs and ensures labor and environmental standards.

Critics say the talks lack transparency and promote business interests at the expense of consumers. Some US lawmakers want dairy excluded, fearing that New Zealand could crush the US sector, while Australian activists have voiced fear that US pharmaceutical companies will force a hike in medicine prices.

The Dallas talks — the 12th round on the Trans-Pacific Partnership — opened on Wednesday and will run until the end of this week.

The US official said that ministers would talk about the trade deal next month on the sidelines of a meeting of the APEC forum in Kazan, Russia.

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