TPP talks fail to reach agreement

VERNON SMALL
Last updated 08:45 11/12/2013

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Negotiations for a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free-trade deal have officially failed to met the year-end target but Trade Minister Tim Groser remains upbeat.

Speaking from Singapore, where ministers of the 12 TPP nations have been meeting, Groser signalled that another meeting, possibly in January, would be needed.

"We clearly need to meet again," he said.

The ministers had asked their chief negotiators to have "fast and furious" talks with a meeting possible next month.

He had told a media conference at the end of the meeting that talks had been substantially advanced.

But he said none of the governments had agreed to a single thing - that only came at the conclusion of talks when it would be taken back to Cabinet to consider.

"If we are stiffed at the end of the negotiation, we won't sign," Groser said.

He said ministers in many areas had identified "potential landing zones" for a final agreement but they were needed in all areas.

On the specific draft chapters in the deal Groser said he had seen nothing in the discussion that would make New Zealanders pay more for their medicines.

The Government had committed to protecting the fundamentals of the Pharmac central drug-buying agency in the face of changes sought by the United States.

However he would not rule out some extra cost to the Government to meet so-called transparency rules on Pharmac that would allow drug companies to challenge Pharmac's decisions. That could require new regulations and there could be a cost involved with that.

However, the extra costs would be "totally manageable and hugely outweighed" by the extra tax that would flow from the boost to exports from a TPP deal, he said.

There would be a net gain or New Zealand would not sign the agreement.

Groser said momentum was accelerating, though it was "a bit of a race" to complete a deal before the US political process "kicked the can down the road".

If a final deal was not struck in the first half of next year then the likelihood faded of a deal before the end of 2014.

But the US commitment to achieving a deal was "palpable".

He said he was much ore optimistic at the end of the Singapore round of talks than when they started three days ago.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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