TPP-11 Negotiators Review Trade Deal Options Ahead of November Meet

14 September 2017

Senior officials from the 11 Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) nations are gearing up for another set of meetings in Japan later this month, aiming to build on their discussions in Australia in late August on how to proceed with the trade pact.

The TPP-11 group, as they are now known, are looking at whether and how much to revise the substance of the comprehensive trade pact since the US withdrew earlier this year. The coalition has given itself until November to come up with a slate of options for leaders to consider when they meet on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders’ Meeting in Hanoi, Vietnam.

The most recent negotiators’ meeting was held in Sydney, Australia, from 28-30 August. The group had previously met in Hakone, Japan, in mid-July. (See Bridges Weekly, 20 July 2017)  

“There is a broad desire among the 11 countries to reach a good agreement,” said Australian Trade Minister Steven Ciobo ahead of the Sydney meeting.

The TPP-11 countries are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam.

Weighing possible revisions, NAFTA dynamic

At the Sydney meeting, reports indicated that negotiators were continuing to weigh how much to revise the substance of the trade deal. Officials from Australia, Japan, and New Zealand had publicly indicated beforehand that they wished to limit the changes to the accord, while Vietnam and Malaysia were among those reportedly calling for revisions.

“What we are now looking at doing is seeing how far we’ve got to peel that back, in order to keep all 11 countries at the table,” said Ciobo on 10 September in an interview with CNBC Asia, according to a transcript provided by his office.

“We know the US withdrawal, although it wasn’t unexpected, it was disappointing, but also changed some of the metrics, especially around some of the market access stuff. So we’ve just got to wait and see and we’ve got to all work together,” he added.

The Australian official also alluded to the differing opinions among TPP-11 members over how much to renegotiate the trade deal’s substance, noting that Singapore is also among those hoping to keep the accord’s content largely intact.

He further noted that other negotiating processes involving TPP-11 participants may have implications for the group’s efforts. For example, the work to move the TPP accord forward comes as Mexico and Canada continue their negotiations with the US for a “modernisation” of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Those talks are due to enter their third round later this month. How much the TPP outcomes will influence those discussions – and vice versa – remains to be seen. (For more on the NAFTA talks, see related story, this edition)

“We’ve just got to make sure and understand that there are some implications for some of the other discussions that are happening, whether that’s the re-negotiation of NAFTA between Mexico, Canada, and the [United States] – given obviously that Mexico and Canada are still in the TPP-11,” said Ciobo.

Among the items that were reportedly major topics in Sydney included how to treat TPP provisions in areas such as government procurement and intellectual property rights for pharmaceutical products.

The latter topic had proven especially contentious in the final phase of the original TPP negotiations, when the US was still a member, particularly involving data exclusivity rules for biologic drugs. Washington had pushed strongly for longer data exclusivity periods for such pharmaceuticals, which are derived from a biological background. These drugs include vaccines and gene therapies, among others. (See Bridges Weekly, 11 February 2016 and 8 October 2015)

While some reports suggest that the current TPP’s provisions on data exclusivity may be revised, that has not been formally confirmed at this stage. Other substantive issues relating to intellectual property rights and investment were reportedly raised and are expected to be the subject of future discussions.

Other officials indicated that the Sydney talks had been fruitful, with Kazuyoshi Umemoto, chief negotiator for the Japanese delegation, telling Kyodo News that “common understanding between their various countries had progressed.”

Washington officials affirm that they have no current plans to re-enter the TPP deal, though some TPP-11 officials maintain that the US may potentially have the option of returning – and that limiting changes to the trade accord would make it easier for the North American country to do so.

Ministers have previously suggested that they would also look at the option of bringing on new partners, so long as they are willing to sign on to the same level of TPP “ambition.” (See Bridges Weekly, 24 May 2017)

ICTSD reporting; “TPP talks in Sydney end with further negotiation set for Sept,” BANGKOK POST, 30 August 2017; “’TPP 11’ to freeze drug data protection demanded by US,” NIKKEI, 31 August 2017; “Trump officials have given Australia tacit approval on TPP, Obama economist says,” THE GUARDIAN, 30 August 2017.

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