US-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 yesterday.
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 clearly identified what needs to be done on the difficult issues such as intellectual property, environment and investment.
“There is considerable amount of work to do,” New Zealand’s TPP lead negotiator David Walker told a media briefing.
There is no formal deadline for an agreement, but October next year is being targeted to coincide with the annual summit of APEC. The next talks are scheduled for early March in Singapore. The major roadblocks to a final deal were not detailed, but the sensitive issue of pharmaceuticals, where the US wants to see greater patent protection for its drug companies, was not discussed.
Critics said the TPP was still aimed at benefiting large US corporations.
“The proposals give greater power to large corporations and fleet-footed investors who would have little interest in creating good jobs and improving social conditions,” Bill Rosenberg of the NZ Council of Trade Unions said.
Other issues the TPP is struggling with include a common dispute resolution process, which could see government measures challenged by private companies, state procurement policies, and greater intellectual property protection.
Australia reaffirmed it would not sign any deal that allowed foreign companies to challenge its laws, while Malaysia said it had problems with suggestions covering government purchasing.