Roadblocks revealed in TPP talks

Stuff.co.nz. New Zealand

Roadblocks revealed in TPP talks

By Stacey Kirk

14 November 2013

Leaked details of free trade negotiations between New Zealand and the United States show the two countries are in stark opposition on a number of key areas.

Whistle-blowing website Wikileaks has released confidential papers relating to the ongoing negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

The documents show New Zealand and the US are in disagreement over a number of issues including affordable medication, intellectual property rights and the ownership of native plants and animals.

In total, New Zealand only agrees with the US in about 60 cases of 250 where New Zealand’s stance is mentioned.

One of the most contentious issues has been US efforts to extend patent protections for pharmaceutical companies which could deprive poorer countries of cheaper generic drugs.

New Zealand drug purchaser Pharmac has long been in the sights of the big US pharmaceutical companies.

The secret documents show the US has proposed a number of clauses which would see drug companies compensated if the market approval process for medicines extended beyond a drug’s patent term.

New Zealand, along with six other nations including Australia and Canada, oppose this.

It would mean fundamental changes to the way Pharmac is able to purchase affordable medicines for New Zealanders.

The US has also sought to block the sale of generic "third medicines" within a market, while further safety information was being sought on an original patented product.

Another topic of disagreement is a US proposal which would see Internet Service Providers (ISPs) become the enforcers of illegal downloading - requiring to suspend users accounts or compensate content owners if their content was downloaded illegally.

Earlier this year, US Trade Representative Michael Froman acknowledged that numerous obstacles remained.

But he told a house hearing in July that an agreement by Christmas was "doable".

Prime Minister John Key echoed that statement after a special meeting was held by member countries, alongside their commitments at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation in Bali in September.

Talks for the TPP began more than two years ago.

There are currently 11 participants - Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam and Japan.

It would be the largest free-trade agreement ever, including countries that make up about 40 per cent of world trade.

TPP proponents say the deal would be worth billions of dollars in extra export earnings but opponents fear a loss of sovereignty, in particular over the fate of the state medicine agency Pharmac and the Government’s ability to legislate an environment and health issues, such as the sale of tobacco.

Trade Minister Tim Groser has already given assurances that the "fundamental" way Pharmac operates was not up for negotiation.

Free trade critic Auckland University Professor Jane Kelsey said the "obsessive secrecy" surrounding the negotiations made leaks inevitable.

"It is in the national interest, and the interests of democracy, for the parties to release the draft texts of all the chapters now to allow informed analysis, democratic input and assessment of the risks."

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