Im­passe over mar­ket­ing of drugs stalls trade talks

The Washington Post Sunday - - POLITICS & THE NATION - BY DAVID NAKA­MURA david.naka­mura@wash­post.com

AT­LANTA— Ne­go­tia­tors from the United States and 11 other na­tions strug­gled Satur­day to break an im­passe on an ex­pan­sive Pa­cific Rim trade ac­cord backed by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, set­ting up what could be amake-or-break fi­nal day of talks.

Trade min­is­ters agreed to ex­tend their stay for a fifth day here to give them­selves another shot Sun­day at reach­ing con­sen­sus Sun­day on the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship (TPP). The largest free­trade and reg­u­la­tory pact in a gen­er­a­tion has been be­set by lin­ger­ing dis­putes that have left of­fi­cials fear­ful that they are run­ning out of time if they don’t close out the pact this week­end.

A fierce di­vide be­tween the United States and Aus­tralia over mar­ket ex­clu­siv­ity for the cre­ators of next-gen­er­a­tion biologic drugs has stalled the talks, which of­fi­cials had hoped would be wrapped up al­ready. Dif­fer­ences over mar­ket ac­cess for dairy ex­ports also re­mained un­re­solved, though of­fi­cials said they were hope­ful that could be bridged once the other is­sue was set­tled.

“Progress has been made, but ne­go­ti­a­tions are still on­go­ing,” Cana­dian Prime Min­is­ter Stephen Harper, who is run­ning for re­elec­tion this month, told re­porters dur­ing a cam­paign stop Satur­day in Mon­treal.

An all-night ne­go­ti­at­ing ses­sion at the Westin ho­tel, where the min­is­ters are meet­ing, failed to pro­duce sig­nif­i­cant progress on the thorni­est is­sues. The main dis­pute cen­ters on how long phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies will main­tain ex­clu­sive mar­ket­ing rights to ge­net­i­cally en­gi­neered medicines.

U.S. law pro­vides com­pa­nies 12 years of pro­tec­tion for the data that un­der­lies the cre­ation of the drugs, pre­vent­ing other com­pa­nies from us­ing the ini­tial re­search to de­velop sim­i­lar prod­ucts that public health ad­vo­cates said could re­duce costs in poorer coun­tries.

U.S. ne­go­tia­tors pro­posed a com­pro­mise pe­riod of eight years of mar­ket ex­clu­siv­ity in the TPP, while Aus­tralia has re­fused to budge from the five years pro­vided un­der its own laws.

“Mak­ing sure peo­ple in poor coun­tries have ac­cess to life-sav­ing medicine is our moral re­spon­si­bil­ity,” Sen. Bernie San­ders (I-Vt.), a can­di­date for the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion, wrote on a Twit­ter post Satur­day.

Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies have coun­tered that weaker pro­tec­tions would re­duce in­cen­tives for de­vel­op­ing the new ge­net­i­cally en­gi­neered medicines. In a sign of the high stakes, Pres­i­dent Obama spoke by phone Thurs­day with Aus­tralian Prime Min­is­ter Mal­colm Turnbull in an at­tempt to spur the talks.

“TPP part­ners con­tinue to work on cre­ative so­lu­tions to­ward agree­ment,” said a U.S. of­fi­cial, who was not au­tho­rized to talk on the record and spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity. “TPP part­ners are com­mit­ted to find­ing a so­lu­tion that en­sures life-sav­ing medicines are more widely avail­able, while also cre­at­ing in­cen­tives for the de­vel­op­ment of new treat­ments and cures.”

The TPP na­tions failed to com­plete the deal dur­ing a pre­vi­ous ne­go­ti­at­ing round in Hawaii in July.

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