ATLANTA • Trade ministers of 12 Pacific Rim countries failed again to conclude a deal on a huge free-trade area and were due to meet one more time yesterday in hopes of reaching agreement.
The ministers attempting to nail down a deal encompassing 40 per cent of the global economy began meeting late on Saturday with hopes of a breakthrough, but the talks in Atlanta, Georgia, broke up after only about 15 minutes, with little progress.
Already once this year, in July in Hawaii, trade ministers gathered with expectations of a deal - and left empty-handed.
"The main issues are still biologics and the dairy trade, between the US and Canada and New Zealand. The automotive issues are mostly settled," said an Asian official after the latest meeting.
Singapore is one of the 12 Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) nations. Officials said yesterday will be the last chance for an agreement in this round, with Japanese Economy Minister Akira Amari due back in Tokyo for a Cabinet reshuffle and others headed to Istanbul for a G-20 meeting today.
The ministers have been meeting since last Wednesday and have been stuck most of the time on the same two problems. The toughest one is on US demands for longer patent protections than generally accepted for biologics, or medicines derived from living materials.
Mr Amari told Japanese reporters after the meeting that the main difference was between Australia, which has defended its standard of five years of protection for creators of the drugs, and the US, with 12 years' protection but willing to compromise at eight years.
The other major sticking point is a mainly three-way tug-of-war over lowering barriers to the dairy trade, between the US, Canada and New Zealand. There was hope but no clear indication the divisions could be surmounted yesterday.
The TPP is an ambitious idea pushed hard by the administration of US President Barack Obama to create a free-trade area that would address "21st century trade issues", such as intellectual property protections and digital trade rights.
The US also hopes that China, the world's No. 2 economy, would eventually be forced to accept the standards locked into place by the TPP, especially if other countries like South Korea join as expected.
The negotiations have been carried out for several years.