Protesters at TPP trade talks

23:47, Dec 02 2012
TPP protest
SIGN OF THE TIMES: Protesters outside the Sky City Convention Centre.

A small group of protesters picketed an international trade conference starting in Auckland today.

About 500 delegates from 11 countries are in the city for the 15th round of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal negotiations.

Originally involving Chile, New Zealand, Singapore and Brunei, the TPP has expanded out with expressions of interest from Australia, the US, Canada and Mexico in June.

Much of the negotiating is behind closed doors and the draft agreements have not been released.

Around 20 placard-carrying protesters were outside the centre with police watching on.

A protest march through the city is scheduled for later today.

New Zealand's lead negotiator in the talks was encouraging exporters to make their interests known to him as the talks continue.

New to the table are Canada and Mexico, which between them represent $1 billion of two-way trade with New Zealand.

David Walker, lead negotiator for New Zealand, said businesses which could benefit from the deal should feel free to talk to the negotiating team.

"We're interested to hear from any exporters, whether it be goods exporters, services exporters, on any particular interest they might have ... Input from any stakeholders is always welcome."

Agriculture, generally a sticking point in any trade talks, was one of New Zealand's key interests but the proposal was very comprehensive.

"We have a lot of interests in the negotiation and there are many areas which are complex."

The TPP would expand an existing free trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership, which covers Chile, New Zealand, Singapore and Brunei.

Australia, Vietnam, Peru, the US and Malaysia have all signalled official interest in joining the new trade bloc, followed by Canada and Mexico in June.

Several other countries are watching and Thailand is also expected to join up.

However, the talks have been criticised because of their secrecy and scope.

Two of the contentious areas are intellectual property and pharmaceuticals. Commentators have expressed concerns that New Zealand might have to sacrifice freedoms such as the right to parallel import trademarked goods, and make concessions over Pharmac's bulk purchases of drugs and medical supplies.

But it is understood New Zealand does not expect to go into bat alone on these and other controversial aspects of the discussions.

Whatever their view, officials at this week's talks are under pressure to strike a deal after Prime Minister John Key and United States President Barack Obama indicated they wanted the trade deal wrapped up within a year.

The Auckland round will conclude on December 12.