Asian leaders report fitful progress on regional trade pact, as time presses

TOKYO – Asian leaders say talks on a Pacific Rim trade pact are making progress, but the outlook for a deal this year remains uncertain.

Singapore’s prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, told a conference in Tokyo on Thursday that the 12 nations involved in the negotiations need to reach an agreement on the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership before U.S. congressional elections in November.

He says that once those elections are past, U.S. attention will swing to the following presidential election.

After ministerial meetings in Singapore earlier this week, the 12 countries issued a joint statement saying they had agreed to step up efforts to bridge gaps over trade and other policies hindering progress toward a final agreement.

Japanese officials say they hope to hold further talks in July, though no timetable was set.