NZ committed to TPP - English

MICHAEL FOX AND VERNON SMALL
Last updated 08:51 10/12/2013

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New Zealand will not be walking away from the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) talks despite widespread disagreements revealed in leaked documents, Deputy Prime Minister Bill English says.

Negotiations are underway in Singapore but the documents released by Wikileaks show New Zealand is one of a number of the 12 countries involved in the talks rejecting many of the proposals put forward by the United States.

The papers show New Zealand has expressed a number of concerns, particularly around proposals relating to medicines.

The US is pressing for a deal before the end of the year, but there are strong doubts it is possible.

One leaked document said there was strong pressure from the US to finalise as many issues as possible, but one country remarked "up until now there had not been any substantial movement on the part of the US and that is the reason for this situation".

English said this morning that New Zealand would not be walking away from the talks in spite of the issues.

"The US position on these issues is pretty well understood - it's been part of their trade their approach to trade for a long time," he told Firstline.

"We've got [Trade Minister] Tim Groser there as a very influential participant in these trade negotiations and as we've seen from his public comments he's pretty positive about where he can get to."

English said the leaks reflected the nature of trade negotiations.

"I think it's highlighted what the Government has always said and that's there's any number of countries who have a different view from the US and the US has shown flexibility and interest and settling disagreement."

The highly-secretive agreement would bring real benefits to the countries involved, he said.

Auckland University law professor and anti-free trade campaigner Jane Kelsey said yesterday: "These polarised positions make US strong-armed tactics even more worrying."

The document which revealed the tactics used by the US, edited to disguise the identity of the author country, shows the state of talks before this week's pivotal ministerial meeting in Singapore.

Website The Huffington Post quoted a spokesman for the Office of the US Trade Representative saying the documents were not from the US and he had no idea about their authorship or authenticity.

"Some elements in them are outdated, others totally inaccurate," the spokesman said, but declined to elaborate.

The future of New Zealand medicine-buying agency Pharmac is of particular concern to New Zealand and Groser has ruled out fundamental changes to the scheme.

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But his office yesterday said he was refusing interviews until the Singapore round of talks wrapped up later today.

According to the document some countries were annoyed the US had put up a proposal, strongly rejected in the past, to revive the so-called "transparency annex" on medicines.

It would allow drug companies to challenge decisions by Pharmac, but the US said it would not apply to all countries. It was asked to include a footnote to that effect.

"That's where it was left," the document said.

The Huffington Post said the US proposal would curb the ability of government health services to negotiate lower drug prices.

"Australia and New Zealand have medical boards - similar to one established under Obamacare - that allow the Government to reject expensive new drugs for the public health system, or negotiate lower prices with drug companies that own patents on them."

It noted the irony that the US wanted to ban those actions, to lock in profits for pharmaceutical companies, but under Obamacare "sought to mimic the behaviour of these boards to lower domestic health-care costs".

On the contentious investor-state disputes settlements (ISDS) issue, the document said the US had shown no flexibility. Only the US and Japan supported moves to apply ISDS rules to investment agreements.

The concept of "investment agreement" would catch nearly all significant contracts that could be made between a state and a foreign investor.

All countries except the US had agreed to eliminate agricultural export subsidies. But on financial services there was inadequate progress at the last round of talks in Salt Lake City.

"The positions are still paralysed. United States shows zero flexibility" the leaked document said.

It is understood the US position could curb the use some macro-prudential mechanisms, including capital controls, that could limit the Reserve Bank's options including loan-to-value ratio mortgages.

The second document shows the positions of all countries, before the November Salt Lake City round of talks, on 14 of the chapters in the TPP.

It showed New Zealand had accepted most or all of the chapters on government procurement, investment, services and labour issues.

New Zealand's strongest opposition was to elements of the chapters on market access, environment, and - along with most other countries - intellectual property.

It shows there were 119 contested issues in that chapter. 

- © Fairfax NZ News

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