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Aug. 9 — Australia's trade minister Steve Ciobo said he remains upbeat about prospects for a 12-nation pan-Pacific trade deal and that steady progress is being made on another major regional trade deal.
Ciobo, who last month met with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and politicians including Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) critic Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), told Bloomberg BNA during an Aug. 9 phone interview that, “based on conversations I have had, I remain cautiously optimistic” that the U.S. will ratify the regional trade deal.
Ciobo said his assessment of the prospects for U.S. ratification hadn't been dented by criticisms of the agreement made at the Republican and Democrat national conventions.
Ciobo stressed that Australia isn't open to “revisiting or reopening any aspects of the TPP agreement,” and it won't adjust domestic legislation or administrative procedures that deal with data exclusivity for manufacturers of brand-name biologic medicines.
Australia's existing data protection framework, including its patent system and other measures, “routinely provides protection in excess of 12 years,” he said.
Hatch has taken issue with the term of intellectual property rights protections for brand-name biologic drugs under the TPP, saying the five-year data exclusivity period isn't enough for drug companies such as Eli Lilly, Novartis and Pfizer to recoup their costs. A 12-year period is nearer the mark, Hatch has said (37 ITD, 2/25/16).
Ciobo noted that the Australian Parliament's scrutiny of the TPP would begin with the reconvening of an inquiry by a joint parliamentary committee on treaties.
The inquiry began in February but was suspended ahead of the July 2 federal election after holding only one public hearing.
In addition to Australia and the U.S., other countries participating in the TPP are Canada, Japan, Mexico and Vietnam. Member countries represent about 40 percent of global economic output, more than one-third of world trade and about 800 million people.
Ciobo said progress made at this week's ministerial talks in Laos on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) “inches us closer towards being able to secure an agreement.”
“Of course we still have some way to travel, and it would appear more likely than not that negotiations might extend into next year,” he said. “But I believe there is a very high level of good will to work towards an outcome that is appropriate in terms of ambition and scope to reflect modern needs of a regional agreement of this type.”
Australia will continue to advocate that RCEP be “as comprehensive an agreement as possible, one that incorporates trade aspects, one that incorporates services and one that incorporates investment,” Ciobo said.
The 16 countries involved in the RCEP negotiations, which do not include the U.S., have yet to determine a date for the next round of ministerial negotiations, he said.
Officials from RCEP economies are due to meet in Vietnam later this month.
The RCEP negotiations were launched in 2012 by leaders of the 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations economies and ASEAN's six free-trade agreement partners.
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