July 31, 2015 / 7:54 PM / in 2 years

Pacific Rim free trade talks go down to the wire

LAHAINA, Hawaii (Reuters) - Talks on a Pacific Rim free-trade pact faced a fast-approaching deadline on Friday as trading partners aimed to wrap up a deal within hours, with New Zealand digging in over trade in dairy products and ministers tussling over monopoly periods for next-generation drugs.

US Trade Rep. Michael Fromam heads a meeting at the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii July 28, 2015. REUTERS/Marco Garcia

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, delayed until 4 p.m. local time (10 p.m. ET) a news conference originally scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on the Hawaiian island of Maui.

“We are still aiming to conclude the negotiations by the time of the news conference,” Japanese Economy Minister Akira Amari said before heading into the morning plenary session.

“Some countries are insisting on enormous demands and that’s the cause of the impasse.”

A Japanese industry source briefed on the talks said New Zealand’s demands over dairy and the monopoly periods for biologics, drugs made from living cells, were the two remaining stumbling blocks.

New Zealand has said it will not back a deal that does not significantly open dairy markets, with an eye to the United States, Japan and Canada.

John Wilson, chairman of the world’s largest dairy exporter, New Zealand dairy cooperative Fonterra (FCG.NZ), arrived to attend the talks late on Thursday to press home the case.

“It’s still dire. This thing is now on a knife edge. There is still not enough in this for New Zealand at all,” said Mike Petersen, who represents New Zealand’s farm sector.

Ministers have also yet to agree on how long to protect data used to develop biologic drugs. U.S. drugmakers want 12 years, but Australia wants five. People briefed on the talks say a compromise on seven or eight years seems likely, but Mexican Trade Minister Ildefonso Guajardo stressed no deal was done.

“That is exactly what we are trying to negotiate,” he told reporters on his way into the meeting.

As the talks entered their final hours, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from the tobacco-growing state of Kentucky who will be influential in garnering votes in Congress for the deal, added his weight to warnings against excluding tobacco from rules allowing foreign companies to sue host governments over policies that harm their business.

Marlboro maker Philip Morris (PM.N) is suing Australia over its plain packaging tobacco laws. Australia is seeking a general exception from the rules for health and environment policy.

Reporting by Ami Miyazaki and Krista Hughes; Editing by Dan Grebler and Ken Wills

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