US Secretary of State Kerry says TPP trade pact must stay on track

HANOI (REUTERS)- United States Secretary of State John Kerry expressed the need to forge ahead to "finish the job" on an ambitious Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) during a meeting with Vietnam's president on Friday, a week after lengthy talks in Hawaii ended with no deal.

Pacific Rim trade ministers failed to strike an agreement last week to free up trade between a dozen nations after disputes on issues ranging from autos and dairy trade to monopoly periods for next-generation drugs.

"One of the very important things now is for us to be able to stay where we are on the TPP negotiations, not to slide backwards, but to finish that job in which Vietnam is very much an important contributor to," Kerry told President Truong Tan Sang in Hanoi.

The Pacific pact is a "mega regional" accord set to cover 12 countries with a combined GDP of US$28 trillion (S$38 trillion), among them Australia, Japan and the United States. In Asia, it also includes Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei.

The US-inspired TPP would connect those economies by cutting trade barriers and harmonising standards covering two-fifths of the world economy and a third of global trade.

TPP trade ministers discussing the pact, which would stretch from Japan to Chile, have said an agreement is within reach, despite last week's failure to conclude.

Vietnam's export-dominated economy is widely seen as one of the biggest potential beneficiaries of the TPP because of its vast commodities resources, cheap labour and growing manufacturing clout, especially in textiles, footwear and cellphones.

Speaking in Singapore on Monday, Kerry said the talks were near completion and called the TPP "a tangible means of demonstrating America's firm and enduring commitment to the security and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific."

The White House said on Monday US negotiators were working to find common ground with other countries, but also wanted the best deal for Americans and one that would meet President Barack Obama's criteria.