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September 27, 2017

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Ministers cite progress but no deal at Pacific free trade talks

SINGAPORE--Asia-Pacific trade ministers negotiating a huge U.S.-led free trade area said Tuesday they were making headway but differences remain over market access.

In a joint statement at the end of a four-day meeting in Singapore, the 12 prospective members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) said they had made "further strides towards a final agreement."

"While some issues remain, we have charted a path forward to resolve them in the context of a comprehensive and balanced outcome," they said.

Talks in December, also in Singapore, ended with negotiators failing to meet a self-imposed deadline to reach a deal by the end of 2013.

The 12 countries — Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the U.S. and Vietnam — are divided on a number of issues, including the opening up of protected domestic markets such as agriculture and automobiles.

Other sticking points include limiting the role of state-owned enterprises in the economy, which countries such as Malaysia are opposing, and copyright provisions that critics say would limit the poor's access to cheaper generic drugs.

"Through extensive bilateral meetings, we have also made progress on market access, which is an important part of our remaining work," the ministers said in the statement.

"We will continue working toward completion of an ambitious package across all market access areas."

Australian Trade and Investment Minister Andrew Robb said in a news conference negotiators had "overwhelmingly broken the back of market access issues" in the Singapore talks, but a deal was not yet complete.

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