Drug patents a stumbling block as nations close on deal for massive Pacific free trade zone

Trade minister Andrew Robb. Photo: Getty Images

After five years of negotiations Australia and 11 other Pacific-rim countries including the United States, Canada, Japan, and New Zealand are nearing a deal on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Reuters reports this morning.

Japan’s economy minister Akira Amari told reporters, on the sidelines of the meeting in Atlanta, he had phoned prime minister Shinzo Abe and told him a deal was near and that other ministers from the 12 nations “are starting to share” that view.

Australia’s Trade Minister Andrew Robb was more circumspect, however, with ABC Radio reporting this morning he said the chances are still 50:50

Negotiations were extended for an extra day Sunday after talks stalled between the United States and Australia. The core issue was that the two nations were unable to reach agreement on how long the monopoly pharmaceutical companies could enjoy on patented drugs would be.

But, Reuters says a breakthrough which “would preserve Australia’s existing five-year protection period but would also offer flexibility on longer drug monopolies,” as favoured by the United States has lead to agreement.

Quoting a person close to the negotiations Reuters says that could potentially create “two tracks on future drug pricing within the trading bloc.”

If agreed the TPP will create a free trade zone which will cover 40% of the global economy, lower tariffs, and open access to markets.

A press conference due to be held in Atlanta at 1800 US Eastern Time (9am ADST) has been postponed.

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