Pa­cific Rim top trade min­is­ters be­gin talks, aim­ing to seal TPP trade pact


Top trade rep­re­sen­ta­tives of 12 Pa­cific Rim coun­tries be­gin two days of talks in At­lanta Wed­nes­day hop­ing to fi­nal­ize the am­bi­tious Tran­sPa­cific Part­ner­ship Agree­ment af­ter July ne­go­ti­a­tions in Hawaii failed.

The United States is push­ing hard for the 12-coun­try deal to cre­ate the world’s largest free trade re­gion, hop­ing to lock in rules that global trade gi­ant China would even­tu­ally have to heed.

A hand­ful of is­sues bogged down the talks in Hawaii, in­clud­ing how the U.S. treats im­ports of Ja­panese auto parts, the length of patent pro­tec­tions for in­creas­ingly im­por­tant biologic drugs, and open mar­kets for dairy prod­ucts from ma­jor pro­duc­ers such as New Zealand.

Joshua Melzer, a trade ex­pert at the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion and a for­mer Aus­tralian trade ne­go­tia­tor, said there was still work to do but an agree­ment was in sight.

“I think the prospects are good for the deal to be done this week,” he said.

But noth­ing was cer­tain, with vo­cal public groups rais­ing ob­jec­tions to a num­ber of is­sues un­der dis­cus­sion and, more gen- er­ally, to the se­crecy of the talks.

In Ot­tawa Tues­day, trac­tor-driv­ing dairy farm­ers with a hand­ful of cows blocked roads to Canada’s par­lia­ment to protest the pos­si­ble open­ing up of the coun­try’s milk mar­ket to im­ports un­der the TPP.

Dairy Farm­ers of Canada pres­i­dent Wally Smith said the pact is “en­dan­ger­ing the sta­bil­ity and vi­a­bil­ity of our in­dus­try.”

The meet­ing of the trade min­is­ters from the 12 TPP coun­tries — Aus­tralia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Ja­pan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Sin­ga­pore, the United States and Viet­nam — will fol­low four days of de­tailed dis­cus­sions be­tween their ne­go­tia­tors in the south­ern U.S. city.

A deal would lower trade and in­vest­ment bar­ri­ers and strengthen in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty pro­tec­tions in coun­tries com­pris­ing about 40 per­cent of the global econ­omy.

Ac­cord­ing to a study by the Peter­son In­sti­tute for In­ter­na­tional Eco­nom­ics in Washington, the stim­u­lus from the TPP pact could add US$295 bil­lion in an­nual global in­come af­ter the 10-year im­ple­men­ta­tion pe­riod.

The ne­go­ti­a­tions have left out main­land China that Washington sees as not com­mit­ted to free trade and which has taken steps to or­ga­nize its own Asia-re­gion trade group­ing.

TPP ne­go­tia­tors are aim­ing to present a fi­nal, un­al­ter­able agree­ment for rat­i­fi­ca­tion to the gov­ern­ments, an ap­proach that has an­gered leg­is­la­tors and civil so­ci­ety groups in a num­ber of the coun­tries, es­pe­cially the United States.

Crit­ics say what they know of the dis­cus­sions fa­vors the needs of in­dus­try groups by giv­ing more pro­tec­tion on drug patents; es­tab­lish­ing an ex­tra-le­gal in­vestor-state dis­pute set­tle­ment regime; and does lit­tle to as­sure en­force­ment of en­vi­ron­men­tal and la­bor stan­dards.

“De­spite the un­prece­dented se­cre- cy sur­round­ing the TPP ne­go­ti­a­tions, leaks of TPP doc­u­ments are fu­el­ing op­po­si­tion in many TPP coun­tries,” said the Washington ac­tivist group Public Citizen.

Can­berra’s Trade Min­is­ter An­drew Robb told the Aus­tralian Fi­nan­cial Re­view that 90 per­cent of the is­sues had been set­tled go­ing into this week’s dis­cus­sions.

“There are un­re­solved is­sues, but hope­fully these aren’t in­tractable,” he said. “A con­clu­sion re­mains within im­mi­nent reach.”

Melzer said that even if a deal is reached this week, it will be months be­fore it goes to gov­ern- ment’s for rat­i­fi­ca­tion.

For the United States, that could mean that a po­ten­tially hos­tile Congress re­cieves that pact in April or May, just as the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion hits high gear.

Many of the Repub­li­can hope­fuls have al­ready at­tacked the deal, but Melzer said that it is pos­si­ble that the fi­nal can­di­dates, if they are rel­a­tive mod­er­ates, won’t try to make a big is­sue out of it.

If a deal is struck, it could be­come a model for the even larger Transat­lantic Trade and In­vest­ment Part­ner­ship (TTIP) Washington is ne­go­ti­at­ing with the Euro­pean Union.

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