ICYMI: US Ambassador to Malaysia Says Trans-Pacific Partnership Negotiations Won’t Conclude Until January 2017

Negotiations to bring the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to fruition are expected to come to an end by January 2017, with all 12 countries involved signaling an interest Monday to conclude talks as soon as possible.

U.S. Ambassador to Malaysia Joseph Y. Yun said Monday that January 2017 would be a realistic deadline for the stalled regional trade deal as it matches the end of President Barack Obama’s presidential term.

“Obama ends his term in 2017 and we are now in May 2014, so I think Obama has a lot of time. All countries have issues and I see the TPP would be concluded within Obama’s term, absolutely,” he told a media roundtable in Kuala Lumpur.

Yun described the free trade agreement as a very complex trade pact, which crosses the usual tariff reduction clause, thus a politically sensible and domestically acceptable agreement must be achieved.

The pact is being negotiated between 12 countries – the U.S., Japan, Mexico, Canada, Australia, Malaysia, Chile, Singapore, Peru, Vietnam, New Zealand and Brunei – which represent more than 40 percent of the world’s gross domestic product.

The biggest economy in the world, China, is also said to be mulling whether to join.

A key stumbling block was said to be the U.S.’ refusal to yield on a contentious Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clause, which critics contend would open signatory states to legal action by private corporations if any law is deemed harmful to a firm’s commercial interests.

Some member states are also upset at the U.S. over its insistence to reintroduce a “Transparency Annexe on Medicine” that had been overwhelmingly discarded in previous rounds of negotiations.

In Malaysia, the meteoric emergence of anti-TPP movements has battered Malaysia’s efforts to justify the benefits of the pact to the general public as well as to the country’s economy.

The movements are concerned that special economic rights enjoyed by local Malays would be jeopardized via the pact. Most organizations are not interested in hearing the government’s explanation, but merely want Malaysia to withdraw its participation.

The call to drop the pact is being led by former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, among all.

The government, through the Ministry of International Trade & Industry, has commenced two cost-benefit analyses, of which the summary and the final draft would be presented to the Parliament for approval.

According to the U.S. ambassador, a study conducted by think-tank the International Institute of Economics clearly indicates that Malaysia would benefit the most out of all negotiating countries from the TPP.

He also explained that Obama and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak had deliberated at length on the TPPA, during the former’s recent three-day historic visit to Kuala Lumpur.

The discussion touched all corners, from the trade and investment to domestic sensitivities, said Yun.

“They mutually agreed that everyone involved in the TPP needed to understand all issues, and left details with their respective ministers to make good progress so that we can achieve a good conclusion and move forward,” he said.

On the protest staged by some local non-governmental organizations, Yun said it is a norm in every country for agreements to have unhappy parties.

“It is how Malaysia deals with it. In this case, all studies showed that Malaysia is among the biggest winners in this agreement. It is up to the Malaysian government to pave the way so it would be broadly accepted,” he added.