Pacific trade ministers vow to reach deal but extra time needed
By Ana Isabel Martinez and Kevin Krolicki
ATLANTA (Reuters) - Trade ministers from a dozen Pacific nations meeting in Atlanta extended talks on a sweeping trade deal until Saturday in a bid to get a final agreement on the most ambitious trade pact in a generation.
Officials extended talks originally scheduled to wrap up on Thursday in a determined effort to produce a breakthrough on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would liberalize trade in 40 percent of the world economy for a region stretching from Vietnam to Canada.
"No one wants to leave without an agreement," Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo told Reuters after a second plenary session of top officials from all 12 nations. "The good news is that we will not leave here without one."
Observers pointed to progress on autos, Canada's pledge to compensate farmers hurt by imports and signs of a possible compromise on patent protection for new drugs as evidence of advancement - although that remained a key sticking point.
"We are starting to see the path to an agreement and have agreed to make final efforts," Japanese Economy Minister Akira Amari told reporters.
Several officials said a final deal could come quickly depending on the outcome of bilateral talks on intellectual property protection for medicines and trade in dairy and autos.
Amari said the monopoly period for biologic drugs, which are made from living cells, was the most difficult issue remaining. TPP countries have protection periods ranging from 12 years in the United States to five years in countries including Australia and Chile.
A deal would be a legacy-defining achievement for U.S. President Barack Obama. But the trade deal is seen as a threat by an array of interest groups from Mexican auto workers to Quebec dairy farmers to cancer patients who worry that it could push the cost of new therapies out of reach. Continued...