Talks 'on TPP changes' in bid to re-energise deal

Delegates at the opening session of the Trans-Pacific Partnership senior leaders' meeting in Sydney on Monday. After the US' withdrawal, the remaining 11 TPP members, including Singapore, have publicly said they remain committed to the deal, and agre
Delegates at the opening session of the Trans-Pacific Partnership senior leaders' meeting in Sydney on Monday. After the US' withdrawal, the remaining 11 TPP members, including Singapore, have publicly said they remain committed to the deal, and agreed to look at ways to take the economic cooperation forward.PHOTO: REUTERS

11 countries, sans US, meeting in Sydney to consider amendments

SYDNEY • The 11 countries committed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) are considering amendments to the trade deal, three sources said yesterday, as officials meet in Sydney for talks to re-energise the stalled agreement.

Among the areas being discussed, Vietnam has raised the prospect of changes to labour rights and intellectual property (IP) provisions in the original pact, one source familiar with the talks told Reuters.

Vietnam had been one of the countries expected to enjoy the biggest economic benefits from TPP through greater access to American markets.

However, the original 12-member TPP, which aims to cut trade barriers in some of Asia's fastest-growing economies, was thrown into limbo in January when US President Donald Trump withdrew his country from the agreement.

Mr Trump's move fulfilled a campaign pledge to put "America first" - a policy that aimed to bring manufacturing jobs back to the United States.

The remaining TPP members, including Singapore, have publicly said they remain committed to the deal, and agreed to look at ways to take the economic cooperation forward.

However, implementation of the agreement linking 11 countries with a combined gross domestic product of US$12.4 trillion (S$16.7 trillion) has stalled - raising fears that other countries will follow the US lead and withdraw.

Eager to keep all members on board, representatives from the remaining countries are considering changes to the original TPP deal, three sources familiar with the talks said. "We're all open to evaluating what we can do and what viable alternatives there may be," Peru's deputy trade minister Edgar Vasquez told Reuters.

While no agreement is expected at the end of the three-day meeting, Vietnam's desire to shelve the IP provisions around pharmaceutical data is likely to win broad support, with Japanese and New Zealand officials also indicating their support for the change, two other sources said.

The original TPP agreement was seen as particularly onerous on Vietnam, which would be forced to make significant reforms, analysts said. "There's not much sense to agree to provisions they don't really want, such as stronger monopolies on medicines, if they are not going to get access to the US market," said University of Sydney research associate Patricia Ranald.

The original TPP offered an eight-year window before competitors can have access to proprietary pharmaceutical data, which critics said would impede development of cheap generics. Potential amendments, however, require delicate positioning.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 30, 2017, with the headline 'Talks 'on TPP changes' in bid to re-energise deal'. Print Edition | Subscribe