BUSINESSES in the Asia-Pacific are calling for a "speedy but substantive" conclusion to the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) talks to enable them to grow.
They urged negotiators to show flexibility and narrow the range of differences so that the negotiations can be brought to a conclusion as soon as possible.
The clarion call was made in Singapore yesterday on the sidelines of the 16th round of talks, which is underway from March 3 through March 13.
Business representatives from TPP member economies joined government negotiators and other representatives of civil society at a TPP Stakeholder Event held yesterday.
Business organisations supporting the call include the Asia Pacific Chambers of Commerce, Canadian Agri-food Trade Alliance, Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, Emergency Committee for American Trade, Foreign Trade Association of Peru, National Centre for Apec, New Zealand International Business Forum, Singapore Business Federation, US-Asean Business Council and Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
"It is to the businesses' interest that the negotiations should be concluded sooner than later so that companies could benefit and help their businesses to grow. However, bearing in mind that TPP should be a high quality agreement, we don't want to sacrifice substance for speed", said Ho Meng Kit, chief executive officer of the Singapore Business Federation.
"We welcome new parties to join the TPP but we hope that the inclusion of new participating economies will not slow down the negotiation process," he added.
The TPP has enabled Malaysia to re-engage with the US after attempts to have a bilateral Free Trade Agreement (FTA) was shelved three years after it was launched in 2006.
Apart from Malaysia, the participants in the negotiations are Australia, Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the US and Vietnam. Canada and Mexico joined the negotiations last year while Japan is keen to join the pact.
International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed, in a briefing to foreign missions and business councils last week, said there has been some progress made in the negotiations and that Malaysia will support it till its conclusion later this year. Malaysia joined the negotiations on October 5 2010.
Asia Pacific business organisations said a successful TPP will be comprehensive with no product exclusions, high quality standards across all main areas, from transparency, investment and government procurement to intellectual property, e-commerce and sanitary and phytosanitary measures.
They said the elimination of tariffs and non-tariff barriers on trade in goods and services and investment should not exceed the 2020 deadline set for free and open trade and investment. It should also be innovative, enforceable as well as a living agreement that is open to other Asia-Pacific economies.
"TPP is about eliminating barriers to trade and investment, reducing the costs of doing business and enhancing the operation of regional supply chains. Addressing these issues will allow business to invest, expand and support and create jobs," said Calman Cohen, president of the Emergency Committee for American Trade.
The US-Asean Business Council president Alexander Feldman expressed his hope that other Asean nations will join in over time, thus creating a pathway to an even wider agreement in the region.
"The TPP will serve as an important building block for Apec's long-term vision of a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific," said Monica Whaley, president of the US National Centre for Apec.