The ministerial meeting of the countries negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) framework ended on Friday (July 31, 2015) without reaching a broad agreement.
In a joint statement, the 12 participating countries emphasised that "we are more confident than ever that TPP is within reach," indicating that they would continue the negotiations.
It is extremely regrettable that the negotiations, which the ministers anticipated would culminate in a broad accord, ended in failure.
Akira Amari, state minister in charge of TPP negotiations, told reporters that he understands the ministers share the view that another ministerial meeting should be held by the end of this month.
But no date has been set for such a meeting.
As things stand now, the ambitious vision of creating a huge free trade zone in the Asia-Pacific region may drift off course.
The 12 countries must understand the urgency of the situation and resume talks quickly.
In the latest talks, progress was made on many issues, including tariff cuts and investment rules.
The countries have definitely come fairly close to reaching a broad accord.
However, the countries concerned failed to settle specific issues.
The negotiations became tangled, in particular, over the length of data protection to be granted to companies that develop pharmaceuticals and hold patents on them.
The United States, home to many leading pharmaceutical companies, initially called for 12 years, while Australia and New Zealand, both of which want to use generic drugs as early as possible, called for five years or fewer.
Splitting the difference, Japan proposed eight years, but the countries failed to come to terms.
- Last-minute hardline stance -
A miscalculation developed as New Zealand demanded that Japan, the United States and Canada expand their import quota for its dairy products by a large margin, on condition that it makes a concession on drug patents.
Other countries tried to talk New Zealand into dropping this excessive demand, but it did not relax its hardline stance.
There is no denying that this weakened the momentum for last-minute compromises in drug patents and other areas.
New Zealand cannot escape the impression that it attempted to bring the issue to a conclusion favorable to that country by shifting to a hard-line stance just when the momentum for reaching a broad accord was building up.
In negotiations such as these that intricately involve the interests of many countries, it is vital for each country to display a spirit of compromise from a broad perspective, rather than pressing ahead with unilateral demands.
Despite the latest failure in reaching an accord, it would be best to avoid increased distrust among countries participating in the talks.
It is necessary for the countries centering around Japan and the United States, which are leading the negotiations, to continue having level-headed, constructive talks.
There is no telling, however, how the talks will unfold, particularly when taking into account the political schedules of participating countries.
In Canada, a general election is scheduled for October, while in the United States, presidential primaries will start in January next year.
In Japan, a House of Councillors election is slated for next summer.
The longer the negotiations take, the more difficult it will be for countries to make compromises on such issues as the opening of markets.
Editorial Notes reproduces editorials appearing in member papers of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, a voluntary grouping of 22 newspapers.