Atlanta | Reuters — Pacific trade ministers readied on Wednesday to close the biggest trade deal in a generation but warned there was still work to be done on issues ranging from intellectual property to trade in dairy and automobiles.
Australian Trade Minister Andrew Robb said ministers from the 12 countries negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) detailed outstanding issues at a meeting in Atlanta and pledged to try to close the deal this week.
“All the participants were genuine about coming here to conclude,” he told Reuters after the plenary session on the TPP, which would cut trade barriers and set common standards for 40 per cent of the world economy.
“There’s an intent there. We are now swapping different versions of possible outcomes, but we have got a lot to do,” he said.
Japanese Economy Minister Akira Amari was quoted by Japanese media as saying, “We have to head into this with the expectation that we can wrap things up.”
Japan, the second largest economy in the TPP bloc after the U.S., is under pressure to open its agricultural sector to more imports and wants to secure a good deal for its automakers.
Australia is keen to export more of its sugar and dairy, and wary of a push by the U.S. to set patent periods for medicines that would extend beyond the current five years currently mandated by Canberra.
Monopoly periods for next-generation biologics drugs are one of the thorniest issues left for ministers to debate, along with local content rules on autos traded between Mexico, Canada, the U.S. and Japan.
“The landing zones are very complicated, but we are weighing all the alternatives to achieve a deal,” a source close to the negotiations said.
The source played down the chance of closing the deal with only some partners, one option that was being discussed on the sidelines of the talks in Atlanta.
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said he sees a good chance of wrapping up a Pacific trade deal this week, but he said the pact could be scuppered if negotiations were to drag on.
Speaking at the Asia Society in New York City, Key said New Zealand, home to the world’s largest dairy exporter Fonterra, was still not happy with dairy market access but agreement was closer on other issues, including intellectual property.
With presidential elections in the U.S. set for November 2016 and some opposition in Congress to the deal, time is of the essence to complete the agreement, which could be a legacy-defining achievement for U.S. President Barack Obama.
“The window of opportunity to complete TPP is closing so you wouldn’t say it’s impossible to complete the deal if it doesn’t take place in Atlanta, but it does become more difficult,” Key said.
TPP leaders are scheduled to meet at an Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in the Philippines in mid-November, which Key said was “probably the last opportunity for 2015” to close the trade deal, already more than five years in the making.
— Ana Isabel Martinez and Krista Hughes are Reuters correspondents based in Mexico City and Washington, D.C. respectively. Additional reporting for Reuters by David Brunnstrom in New York and Kevin Krolicki in Atlanta.