AUCKLAND Dec 12 U.S.-led talks in New Zealand
on a free trade deal for the Asia-Pacific region have made some
progress but have a long way to go to reach a pact to dismantle
entrenched trade barriers by the end of next year, the
negotiators said on Wednesday.
Several hundred officials from 11 countries have spent more
than a week in Auckland for the 15th set of negotiations on the
Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), which began in March 2010.
New Zealand's chief delegate said the talks had brought new
TPP members, Canada and Mexico, into the process and made
progress on the language and mechanisms of any deal, as well as
more clearly identified what needs to be done on the difficult
issues such as intellectual property, environment and
"There is considerable amount of work to do," David Walker
told a media briefing, adding there was a common desire among
the 11 nations to reach a deal next year.
"On the various market access negotiations, discussions
continue as we move towards construction of an overall package,
which meet the ambitions set out by leaders and ministers and is
acceptable to all," he said.
There is no formal deadline for an agreement, but October
next year is being targeted to coincide with the annual summit
of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). The next round
of talks will be held in March in Singapore.
Walker and other chief delegates did not spell out the major
roadblocks to a final deal, but the sensitive issue of
pharmaceuticals, where the United States wants to see greater
patent protection for its drug companies was not discussed.
Critics say the TPP has been hijacked by the United States,
which is looking to benefit its own corporations and counter
growing Chinese influence.
Other difficult issues that the talks have struggled with
have been a common dispute resolution process, which could see
government measures challenged by private companies, and greater
intellectual property protection.
Australia's chief negotiator Hamish McCormick reaffirmed
that his country would not sign any deal that allowed foreign
companies to challenge his country's laws and regulations.
The original four nation TPP of New Zealand, Chile,
Singapore, and Brunei, now includes the United States,
Australia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Peru, and most recently Canada and
Mexico. Thailand and Japan are looking at joining.
Collectively the TPP countries represent 650 million people
with a total gross domestic product of around $21 trillion.
Last month, talks were launched for a new 16 nation free
trade agreement -- as the Regional Comprehensive Economic
Partnership (RCEP) -- grouping the 10-nation Association of
South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) along with Australia, China,
India, Japan, Korea, and New Zealand.