Pacific Rim free trade talks fall short of deal

Sat Aug 1, 2015 2:54am EDT
 
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By Ami Miyazaki and Krista Hughes

LAHAINA, Hawaii (Reuters) - Pacific Rim trade ministers failed to clinch a deal on Friday to free up trade between a dozen nations after a dispute flared up over auto trade between Japan and North America, New Zealand dug in over dairy trade and no agreement was reached on monopoly periods for next-generation drugs.

Trade ministers from the 12 nations negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would stretch from Japan to Chile and cover 40 percent of the world economy, fell just short of a deal at talks on the Hawaiian island of Maui but were confident an agreement was within reach.

"The undergrowth has been cleared away in the course of this meeting in a manner that I would say is streets ahead of any of the other ministerial meetings that we have had," New Zealand Trade Minister Tim Groser said.

"You can see clearly that there are one or two really hard issues, and one of them is dairy."

Australian Trade Minister Andrew Robb said the problem lay with the "big four" economies of the United States, Canada, Japan and Mexico. "The sad thing is, 98 percent is concluded," he said.

Failure to seal the agreement is a setback for U.S. President Barack Obama, given the trade pact's stance as the economic arm of the administration's pivot to Asia and an opportunity to balance out China's influence in the region.

The talks, which drew about 650 negotiators, 150 journalists and hundreds of stakeholders, had been billed as the last chance to get a deal in time to pass the U.S. Congress this year, before 2016 presidential elections muddy the waters.

The TPP seeks to meld bilateral questions of market access for exports with one-size-fits-all standards on issues ranging from workers' rights to environmental protection and dispute settlement between governments and foreign investors.   Continued...

 
Japanese Economy Minister Akira Amari (L) and US Trade Rep. Michael Fromam participate in a press conference in Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii July 31, 2015.  REUTERS/Marco Garcia