• TPP talks extended as ministers struggle

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    ATLANTA: Trade officials from 12 Pacific rim countries have extended to Friday negotiations aimed at creating the world’s largest free trade zone.

    With some of the final differences still not ironed out, a spokesman for the US Trade Representative said a planned press conference Thursday evening was cancelled and “negotiations will continue tomorrow.”

    Talks have bogged down on several issues, including how the US opens its market to foreign auto parts—particularly from Japanese car makers—and how much Canada is willing to open its market to dairy products from Australia and New Zealand like cheese.

    Also still unresolved is the US push to establish lengthier patent protections for biologic drugs, made using living organisms.

    That is being resisted by a number of the 12 countries involved in the talks—Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.

    Worries were that the negotiators would again not be able to bridge their differences, two months after a meeting of the ministers in Hawaii failed to strike a deal.

    Thursday was the second of two scheduled days of talks at the ministerial level, which came after the core negotiating teams spent four days haggling.

    The decision to hold a meeting of trade ministers on Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) so soon after Hawaii had been seen as a sign that they might be able to finalize a deal this time.

    Since initiating the talks in 2008, the United States has been hoping to lock in rules on free trade and intellectual property protection that global trade heavyweight China would eventually have to heed.

    The 12 countries in the TPP discussions represent about 40 percent of the global economy, and so any agreement would lay down broad standards.

    China, however, has already begun trying to set up its own Asia trade agreement, which analysts worry could take concrete shape if TPP talks fail.

    The talks have drawn strong criticism for their secrecy and fears they will benefit some industries while harming others.

    A group of Canadian provincial officials were in Atlanta Thursday pressing Ottawa’s negotiators to not give in to pressure to open up the country’s dairy sector to more imports from dairy powers Austria and New Zealand.

    If a proposal is accepted to allow another 17,000 tons of foreign cheese into Canada, it will kill about 400 family farms in Quebec province, argued Pierre Paradis, the Quebec agriculture minister.

    AFP

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