By Peter Wilson
New Zealand's negotiators are arguing strongly against extending drug patent protection under the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement, Prime Minister John Key says.
It's a crucial issue as the 12-nation deal edges closer to agreement, and the United States is reported to be pushing for 12 years.
Australian Trade Minister Andrew Robb says his government won't fall into line on that, and he's yet to be convinced there needs to be any more than five years.
"You can assume we're going for the shorter period," Mr Key told reporters today.
"We've got a pretty strong view on what we think is acceptable."
He confirmed the US wanted a "long period" for patent protection.
Mr Key wouldn't say what the government considered acceptable.
"I'm not going to negotiate this through the media."
Pharmac, the government's drug buying agency, purchases generic medicines whenever it can.
They're produced when patent protection periods expire, and are much cheaper.
Any patent protection extension would mean Pharmac would have to pay higher costs for longer.
Mr Key on Tuesday gave an assurance any cost increase would be met by the government and patients wouldn't pay more than the current $5 prescription fee.
"I'm not really convinced Pharmac will have to pay more even if the TPP granted longer patents," he said.
Mr Key says any cost increase would be "tiny" compared with the economic benefits of having a free trade agreement with the US and other big economies.
"We will receive so much more tax revenue ... it's highly likely we will subsidise even more drugs than we do today," he said.
The final terms of the TPPA are being thrashed out this week in Hawaii.