Pacific trade negotiators chase elusive final deal in tough talks

Fri Jul 31, 2015 4:12am EDT
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By Krista Hughes and Ami Miyazaki

LAHAINA, Hawaii (Reuters) - Pacific Rim trade ministers neared the final spurt of negotiations on an ambitious free trade pact on Thursday, but differences over farm exports and monopoly periods for next-generation drugs kept them short of an elusive final deal.

Ministers from the 12 countries negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which would cut trade barriers and set common standards for 40 percent of the world economy, are meeting in Hawaii to try to hammer out a deal.

But major issues are still unresolved, including dairy exports and exclusivity periods for biologic drugs. The United States is pushing for 12 years but Australia and other countries worried about the impact on medicine prices want five.

"They are few but very contested," Mexican Trade Minister Ildefonso Guajardo told Reuters of the outstanding issues.

"I think that the negotiators will have to work through the night," Japanese Economy Minister Akira Amari said.

A final news conference is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on Friday (7.30 p.m ET). Ministers appeared relaxed as they were garlanded with leis for an official photo.

"It's tough," said one official involved in the talks, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the discussions, which seek to meld one-on-one negotiations over market access with a one-size-fits-all approach to rules.

"There are issues on dairy, on intellectual property, but it's not always clear where things stand. I know about my issues but I don't always know what's happening with other countries."   Continued...

(L-R) Vietnamese Minister of Industry and Trade Vu Huy Hoang, Singaporean Minister of Trade and Industry Lim Hng Kiang, Peruvian Minister of Foreign Trade and Tourism Magali Silva, New Zealand Trade Minister Tim Groser, Mexican Economy Secretary Ildefonso Guajardo, Malaysian Minister of International Trade and Industry Mustapa Mohamed, U.S. Trade Rep. Michael Froman, Japanese Economy Minister Akira Amari, Chilean Head of Trade Relations Andres Rebolledo, Canadian Trade Minister Ed Fast, Brunei's Second Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Lim Jock Seng and Australian Trade Minister Andrew Robb wear flower leis as they line up for a family photo at the Westin Resort in Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii, during the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) talks, July 30, 2015. REUTERS/Marco Garcia