Washington: Delegates negotiating a huge Pacific free-trade agreement said Friday they have failed to reach a final deal after several days of intense talks in Hawaii, in a setback to US President Barack Obama.
But US Trade Representative Michael Froman, in a statement on behalf of the 12 countries involved, insisted that "significant progress" had been made on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement.
"After more than a week of productive meetings we`ve made significant progress and will continue on resolving a limited number of remaining issues, paving the way for the conclusion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations," said Froman.
The negotiators were "more confident than ever that TPP is within reach," he said, adding that the Pacific Rim countries involved would continue to have bilateral discussions to try and iron out their remaining differences.
"The progress made this week reflects our long-standing commitment to deliver an ambitious, comprehensive and high-standard TPP agreement that will support jobs and economic growth across the Asia-Pacific region."
The failure to hammer out the final details of the accord are a blow to Obama as it could see the TPP become campaign fodder as the United States gets set to enter election season.
The TPP is the most ambitious trade deal in decades, a vast free-trade bloc encompassing 40 percent of the world`s economy and part of Obama`s much-vaunted "rebalance" towards Asia in the face of an increasingly assertive China.
The 12 countries involved, also including Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Canada, have faced criticism for carrying out their negotiations in what opponents have charged is a high level secrecy.
Critics say the proposals indicate a deal moving more toward protection than free trade; one more about corporate benefits than boosting economies and development.
But backers say the modern global economy needs a new framework of rules to protect intellectual property-dependent 21st century industries that aren`t covered in traditional free trade pacts like the World Trade Organization.Several prickly issues were believed to have held up what was supposed to be the final round of talks this week on the island of Maui, prime among them differences over agricultural markets and protection for drug makers.
With the US facing elections in November 2016, and voters suspicious of trade treaties, the delay could jeopardize its ratification in Congress.
"Today`s fourth `final` TPP ministerial without a deal means the clock has run on possible US congressional votes in 2015," Lori Wallach, director of advocacy group Public Citizen`s Global Trade Watch, said in a statement.
"No deal means the TPP is thrown into the political maelstrom of the US presidential cycle and with opposition building in many countries there are reduced chances that a deal will ever be reached on a pact that US Trade Representative Michael Froman declared to be in its `end game` in 2013 but that has become ever more controversial since.
"It`s good news for people and the planet that no deal was done at this final do-or-die meeting given the TPP`s threats to jobs, wages, safe food, affordable medicines and more."