Pacific trade talks hinge on pharma protections as deadline nears

Sun Oct 4, 2015 11:06am EDT
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ATLANTA Oct 4 (Reuters) - Talks between a dozen Pacific nations in Atlanta on a free-trade deal, extended to a fifth day on Sunday, hinged on resolving a dispute over how long a monopoly pharmaceutical companies should be given on new biotech drugs.

The issue pits the United States, which argues for longer protections to encourage innovation, against Australia and five other delegations who say such measures would strain national healthcare budgets and keep life-saving medicines from patients who cannot afford them.

The United States offers 12 years of exclusivity for the clinical data used in developing drugs like cancer therapy Avastin, developed by Genentech, a division of Roche. Australia has argued for five years of protection.

"You know, just splitting it down the middle is not the answer, and we've had to try to work through that," Australian Trade Minister Andrew Robb told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. "If we don't, it will have a major impact on whether we conclude or not."

Japan's Kyodo news agency reported on Sunday that the United States and Australia had reached a compromise on granting protection that would amount to eight years. Reuters could not immediately confirm the report.

Negotiators have been trying to broker a deal on the Trans Pacific Partnership, or TPP, which would lower tariffs and set common standards for 12 economies led by the United States and Japan, which together account for 40 percent of global output.

U.S. President Barack Obama has pushed for a deal as a way to open markets to U.S. exports, including financial services and pharmaceuticals. U.S. officials have also promoted the deal as a counterweight to China and that rising power's vision for Asia.

After more than five years of negotiations, delegates were due to meet for a fifth day in Atlanta on Sunday after the talks were extended by 24 hours. Officials involved in the talks said the set of remaining politically charged issues that could scuttle a deal had been sharply narrowed.

By Saturday, the United States and Japan had reached agreement in principle on trade in autos and auto parts in talks that had also included Canada and Mexico. That agreement is expected to give U.S. automakers, led by General Motors and Ford, two decades or more of tariff protection against low-cost pickup truck imports from Thailand or elsewhere in Asia, people briefed on the talks have said.   Continued...