Vietnam TPP Update: Edging Closer to Completion

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By Edward Barbour-Lacey

HANOI – The U.S.-led free trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), continues to roll ever closer to completion. While negotiations are ongoing, there seems to be a growing feeling in the air that the largest such agreement in U.S. history will soon be signed.

Vietnam, in particular, has expressed its strong desire to see the free trade agreement (FTA) completed soon. The country has much to gain, including drastically reduced tariffs in some of the world’s largest markets.

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Upon completion, the TPP trade area would comprise a region with US$28 trillion in economic output, making up around 39 percent of the world’s total output.  If the TPP is successfully implemented, tariffs will be removed on almost US$2 trillion in goods and services exchanged between the signatory countries.

As part of his “Pacific Pivot” policy, U.S. President Obama has made a point of trying to strengthen the United States’ relationship with Vietnam, as well as other countries in Asia.  The TPP is seen by the U.S. administration as a way to continue strengthening Asian relationships and balance Chinese influence in the region.

During a recent interview, U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker stated her belief that the trade agreement would be finished by the end of this year stating, “I’m pretty optimistic about what can happen. We’re down to the endgame of this negotiation.”

Vietnam has previously called upon U.S. government officials to ensure a speedy and successful end to TPP negotiations. A short time ago, US Senator Patrick Leahy visited Vietnam and met with government officials including Nguyen Sinh Hung, Vietnam’s National Assembly Chairman, and State President Truong Tan Sang. During the Senator’s meeting he frequently heard the government officials again express their hope that the U.S. would be able to quickly complete the TPP negotiations.

At a meeting last Thursday in Hanoi with the newly arrived Ambassador of Brunei, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung stated that “Vietnam is eager to step up coordination with Brunei, Malaysia and Singapore [in order] to conclude the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations as soon as possible.”

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Mr. Dung also put forth the proposal that the two countries hold the next session of the Vietnam-Brunei Joint Committee as soon as possible in order to discuss areas of mutual cooperation in the fields of trade, investment, farming and aquaculture.

Additionally, the two officials discussed issues surrounding the East China Sea; Mr. Dung stressed the importance of solving all disputes regarding the area peacefully.

A potential sticking point to the end of TPP negotiations is between Japan and the U.S. over the issues of agriculture and automobiles – specifically over the access to the markets these industries operate in. However, U.S. President Obama is currently conducting a diplomatic trip to Asia and has recently concluded a trip with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.  Reports emanating from this meeting point to the two countries having found a way to negotiate through these problems.

There are 12 countries negotiating the TPP agreement: the United States, Vietnam, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, Chile, and Peru.

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