Friday, September 25, 2015

Australia heads to Atlanta for last-ditch talks to revive the Trans-Pacific Partnership

The stalled Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations will be restarted next week, with the possibility of an agreement by the week's end.

"There are some unresolved issues, but I don't believe they are intractable," Trade Minister Andrew Robb said as Australian officials prepared to travel to Atlanta, where officials from 12 nations including the United States, Japan and Singapore will meet to narrow down differences before ministerial talks due later in the week.

Talks aimed at creating the world's biggest free-trade zone broke down in Hawaii in August, with disputes over medicines, cars and dairy products the main stumbling blocks.

Mr Robb is understood to have withstood enormous pressure from the US to extend the period of so-called data protection for new biotech medicines known as biologic drugs. The US wanted 12 years in which drug companies could be able to charge high prices, Australia wanted no more than the present five.

It had been thought that an agreement would be impossible once the Hawaii talks broke up, because of the start of the US election season and an election in Canada. US President Barack Obama is keen to land the deal before he leaves office in January 2017.

The fresh round of talks begins in Atlanta on Monday, and then if progress is made ministerial talks including Mr Robb will begin on Wednesday.

The timetable means a deal could be sealed by Sunday, creating a new trade zone that would encompass 40 per cent of the world's economy...

It could only be done if the US, Japan, Mexico and Canada reach agreement on market access for agriculture and vehicles in separate talks that will take place in Atlanta as officials are meeting.

Mr Robb said he remained committed to playing a constructive role to help conclude a high quality TPP.

All going well he would be in the US next week.

More than 150 health experts including 60 professors of medicine have written to Mr Robb calling on him to remain firm in opposing measures that would add hundreds of millions of dollars to the cost of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

They are also opposed to so-called investor-state dispute settlement mechanisms that would allow foreign corporations to sue Australian federal, state and local governments over policies to protect health that are seen to hurt foreign investment.

"We understand that the government's agreement with the ISDS clause is dependent on both the adequacy of health and the environmental safeguards," the letter says. "However, we believe the safeguards are insufficient to prevent corporations from using ISDS to challenge legitimate health and environmental measures."

The Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network has sought a meeting with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to argue that Australia should continue to oppose stronger monopolies on biologic medicines, draconian copyright rules and foreign investor rights to sue governments.

In The Age and Sydney Morning Herald