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US negotiators in Singapore to unblock TPP negotiations

Once more, from the top

America's free trade tourists have returned to Singapore on yet another attempt to unlock stalled talks over the Trans Pacific Partnership treaty.

Hailed by business and government alike, the 12-nation treaty has been criticised on various grounds: the secrecy of its proposed text, the lack of consultation in many countries, along with proposals to further criminalise copyright infringement, deploy patent law to restrict generic pharmaceuticals, and give companies the right to sue governments over regulations they don't like.

However, what put the last round of negotiations on ice was Japan's refusal to accept the treaty's demands on agricultural reform, while America's uncrossable line was tariffs on autos.

The reform of state-owned companies is also causing friction in the negotiations. The Wall Street Journal states that while there's a consensus about limiting the activity of state-owned companies, “TPP members have to agree on specifics, such as the types of industries in which state-owned firms would be permitted to operate”.

The idea that state-owned enterprise activity might be restricted by industry, rather than merely the principle of competitive neutrality (that governments should avoid unfairly undercutting the private sector) would quite likely be a bridge too far for a country like Vietnam, where according to this Congressional briefing (PDF) the state is responsible for about 40 per cent of economic output. ®

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