TPPA negotiations 'close' to completion

Tim Groser (File)
Tim Groser (File)

A news conference scheduled following Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) talks has been postponed indefinitely.

The contentious TPPA is again being touted as close to the finish line.

Ministers from the 12 Pacific Rim countries met for just 15 minutes in the US city of Atlanta on Saturday (US time), then reconvened on Sunday with media reporting pharmaceutical and dairy trade between the US, Canada and New Zealand as being the main sticking points.

Canada is keen to protect its market from imports, and New Zealand's biggest worry is that the deal would fall short on dairy but Deputy Prime Minister Bill English says he isn't too worried.

"We set the threshold very high here," he told the Paul Henry programme. "Any deal will be better than what we've got, keep that in mind."

Now into its fourth year of negotiations, the TPPA could cover almost 40 percent of the world's economies. But critics say it places undue limits on national sovereignty.

The ministers involved in the negotiations, including New Zealand's Tim Groser, have been meeting since Wednesday and talks were extended by another day.

Prime Minister John Key said at the weekend New Zealand could live with some extension to patent periods for biologic drugs - which would mean cheaper, generic drugs would take longer to get to market.

The new conference was pushed back three times today. It was originally slated for 9am (NZ time) then moved to 11am, to 1pm, then 3pm and now "delayed until further notice".

3 News understands Mr Groser is in a one-on-one meeting with US Trade representative Michael Froman which is apparently behind the delay.

Mr Groser had earlier said he was unsure whether he'd head to the meeting unless there was likely to be movement on the "wholly inadequate" state of dairy access from the US, Canada and Japan.

It also comes after former Prime Minister Helen Clark said during the United Nations General Assembly in New York that it would be "unthinkable" for New Zealand not to be part of the agreement.

"Of course New Zealand has to be in on the action with a [TPPA] and go for the very best deal it can," she said.

The comment was significant because Ms Clark, now the head of the UN Development Programme, rarely comments on New Zealand's domestic politics.

The TPPA started under the previous Labour government, but was originally called the P4 and included Chile, Singapore and Brunei.

TPPA opponent Professor Jane Kelsey who is monitoring the negotiations, believes the sticking points in the latest round of talks are over the pharmaceutical industry's monopoly over biologics medicines and market access for dairy.

She says the issue over autos "seems to have subsided".

With the extension of talks, time was running out for a number of parties – the US, Japan, Canada, Mexico and Australia – who had to leave for the G20 meeting in Istanbul which starts today (NZ time).

3 News / NZN