The 15th round of negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement (FTA) will take place on Dec. 3-12 in Auckland, New Zealand.  These talks will include Canada and Mexico for the first time and have attracted comments from most trade-oriented industries.  President Obama and other government leaders have targeted October 2013 for completion of negotiations.

The countries involved have expanded to 11 – the U.S., Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam, 30 percent of global GDP.  Talks began in March of 2010 in Melbourne, Australia and the most recent round was on September 6-15 in Leesburg, Virginia.  The original plan was to have negotiations completed by the end of 2012, but that was impractical from the start and became more so with the addition of Canada and Mexico.  The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders’ meeting in Indonesia in late 2013 would be a good opportunity to release the final agreement.

Thailand Prime Minister Shinawatra announced last week that the country will seek to join the TPP negotiations.  She met with President Obama in Thailand to discuss the TPP and would benefit from further integration into industrial supply chains in Asia.  As an agricultural exporter it could also gain from increased access to importing countries.  Japan has also expressed interest in joining the TPP at some point in the future, but it may have a new government after elections in December.

The addition of Canada and Mexico makes the talks even more important for U.S. agriculture.  Last year the two countries were the number one and two export markets for U.S. agriculture.  Australia, Chile and New Zealand will certainly be looking for more market access in Canada and Mexico, with Canada’s protected dairy and poultry markets major targets for change.  Those were excluded from NAFTA and the U.S. has been trying to gain greater access.  The U.S. dairy industry had wanted to be excluded from TPP because of concerns about increased dairy imports from New Zealand.  With an opportunity to gain access in Canada, the industry is considering additional market access for New Zealand.  Canada is in the final stages of negotiating a FTA with the EU and how it addresses access for dairy products from the EU may give some indication of their approach in the TPP talks.  U.S. and New Zealand officials have had limited contact on dairy product access.

Australia continues to drive a hard bargain over greater access to the U.S. sugar market.  Sugar was specifically excluded in the U.S.-Australia FTA.  U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Ron Kirk has taken the approach that products that have been addressed in an existing FTA will not be reopened in the TPP FTA.  Australia has rejected that line of thinking in the negotiations and has been blocking other issues of importance to the U.S. to add pressure for changes on sugar.