Trade talks stress common interests

TIM HUNTER
Last updated 14:51 07/12/2012

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There were soothing noises from trans-Pacific trade talks this morning as America's chief negotiator stressed common interests in reaching a deal.

Briefing media at the US consulate in Auckland, Barbara Weisel said concerns about the potential impact of new intellectual property rules were "overblown".

"A lot of the press overstates what the dynamics are in the room on some of these issues," she said.

"There are a lot of elements in IP where we have common interests ... and there are other areas where there have been concerns raised about the impact of some of what we're pursuing. Some of those concerns are extremely overblown and not based on an accurate evaluation of what it is that has been proposed."

Weisel is in Auckland for the 15th round of negotiations involving 11 countries aiming to conclude the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement.

The talks have attracted controversy because of their secrecy and concerns a deal could extend corporate power into areas seen as national interests.

One issue causing alarm in New Zealand is how the TPP could affect the operations of public drug buying agency Pharmac, but Weisel said any deal would have to be acceptable to all parties.

"For instance on access to medicines and pharmaceutical [intellectual property] - that's the issue that has gotten a lot of print - we have made clear we are reflecting on the comments we have received from stakeholders and other countries around the table with a view to further discussions as we complete a domestic process on that issue.

"Ultimately, as we have in previous [free trade agreements], we will come to a conclusion on that issue that is acceptable to all the parties on the table, as complex as it is."

Weisel said complaints from some US politicians about excessive TPP secrecy were misguided.

In June, 132 members of Congress wrote to US Trade Representative Ron Kirk expressing concern that more than 600 big businesses had access to negotiators and texts of TPP proposals, but "American small business, civil society and other interests who have a direct and long-term interest in the outcome of these negotiations have little meaningful input."

But Weisel said Congress had been closely consulted at every stage of the talks.

"They have provided input to every proposal we have tabled in this negotiation and are consulted before and after every round intensively...

"I can't begin to explain why those misunderstandings exist, because all 500 members of Congress have access to the text, have always had access to the text. Whenever they choose to ask to see a text they are provided that text, and that has always been our policy and continues to be our policy."

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Weisel declined to discuss specific issues in the TPP, saying only that "all countries have sensitivities in this negotiation we're going to need to work through but we have a commitment to a comprehensive agreement."

The Auckland talks at the SkyCity Convention Centre - involving 500 negotiators from Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Mexico, Peru, Singapore, the US, Vietnam and New Zealand - end on Wednesday next week.

- BusinessDay.co.nz

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