Pacific Rim trade ministers neared the final spurt of negotiations on an ambitious free trade pact on Thursday, but differences over farm exports and monopoly periods for next-generation drugs kept them short of an elusive final deal.
Ministers from the 12 countries negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which would cut trade barriers and set common standards for 40 percent of the world economy, are meeting in Hawaii to try to hammer out a deal.
But major issues are still unresolved, including dairy exports and exclusivity periods for biologic drugs. The United States is pushing for 12 years but Australia and other countries worried about the impact on medicine prices want five.
“They are few but very contested,” Mexican Trade Minister Ildefonso Guajardo told Reuters of the outstanding issues.
“I think that the negotiators will have to work through the night,” Japanese Economy Minister Akira Amari said.
A final news conference is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on Friday (7.30 p.m ET). Ministers appeared relaxed as they were garlanded with leis for an official photo.
“It’s tough,” said one official involved in the talks, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the discussions, which seek to meld one-on-one negotiations over market access with a one-size-fits-all approach to rules.
“There are issues on dairy, on intellectual property, but it’s not always clear where things stand. I know about my issues but I don’t always know what’s happening with other countries.”
About 650 officials from 12 nations are taking part in the negotiations on the Hawaiian island of Maui, with numerous lobby groups and stakeholders also attending.
Negotiators have stressed they are doing their utmost to close the deal this week but also warned that not all industries will get what they want, amid a flurry of last-minute appeals.
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