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By Len Bracken
Aug. 3 — New Zealand's Prime Minister John Key said Aug. 3 he's confident the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement can be reached, and a senior Japanese official the same day expressed hope for agreement by the end of August.
Key said during a press conference in Wellington, New Zealand, that market access for dairy, intellectual property and autos is among the sticking points remaining after a four-day meeting of trade ministers in Maui, Hawaii, that ended July 31. Key also said New Zealand wants to achieve a deal, “but not at any cost.”
Yoshihide Suga, chief cabinet secretary in Japan, told reporters in Tokyo that the 12 Pacific Rim countries could hold another ministerial meeting “by the end of August,” after falling short of concluding the trade deal while in Hawaii.
Suga emphasized “many issues have been resolved, and what remains to be solved has been narrowed down considerably,” adding that Japan would strive for early conclusion of the TPP while safeguarding national interests.
The TPP ministers representing Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the U.S. and Vietnam said in a July 31 joint statement that they are “more confident than ever that TPP is within reach.”
Andrew Robb, Australia's trade minister, echoed this optimism in an Aug. 1 statement and said Australia made significant gains across every area, including agricultural market access, in Hawaii.
“There are a handful of big outstanding issues that directly affect us as well some moving parts involving other countries in areas like automotives, data protection around biologics, dairy and also sugar,” Robb said, reiterating Canberra's often-stated interest in increased access to the U.S. sugar market, which is currently limited to 87,000 metric tons per year.
The talks on market access for dairy chiefly involve the U.S., Canada, New Zealand and Japan, although Australia and Mexico are involved. The U.S., Japan, Mexico and Canada are the only TPP countries with auto industries, so they are hashing out the rules of origin and other issues concerning trade for this industry.
All 12 countries have a stake in the area of non-patent intellectual property (IP) protections for biological drugs, where reports say the U.S. has lowered its demand from 12 years of data protection to eight, which is in line with Canadian and Japanese laws but still higher than the five-year periods set out in Australian, New Zealand and Singaporean laws.
Michael Moore, chief executive, Public Health Association of Australia, told Bloomberg BNA Aug. 3 by phone that the U.S. had little, if any, support at Maui for its attempt to secure 12 years' data protection for pharmaceutical companies.
“My understanding from people on the ground in Hawaii is that the U.S. is largely playing a lone hand, that Australia has taken a leadership role in resisting this significant increase,” he said.
Several TPP countries do not have exclusivity periods for biologics and will likely have to pass new laws to meet commitments in the agreement—transition periods are likely for some of the less-developed countries.
The chairmen and ranking members of the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees issued separate statements July 31 in response to the joint statement from the TPP ministers.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said he was “very encouraged” by the “considerable progress” achieved in Maui but that the negotiations have not yet reached an agreement that meets the high standards set in the trade promotion authority legislation enacted in June.
Ways and Means ranking member Sander Levin (D-Mich.), who monitored the talks in Maui, praised the administration for holding off. “Critical issues that still must be resolved include securing fair agricultural market access; making sure that Mexico, Vietnam, and Malaysia fundamentally reform their labor laws and practices to live up to basic internationally-recognized labor standards; adopting effective rules against currency manipulation; bringing about real reciprocity and strong rules of origin in auto trade; and ensuring access to affordable medicines,” Levin said.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said a “good deal is better than a fast deal” and that he had unspecified concerns with some of the positions taken by U.S. counterparts in the talks. Senate Finance Committee ranking member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said he was pleased the U.S. was taking the time necessary to “get this agreement done right,” stressing how “consequential to the future” the agreement was for U.S. workers and the region’s environment.
With assistance from Matthew Brockett, Toshio Aritake and Andrew Murray
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The joint statement by the TPP ministers is available at https://ustr.gov/about-us/policy-offices/press-office/press-releases/2015/july/joint-statement-tpp-ministers.
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