Moves to get the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) to the point of sign-off by the end of the year went into overdrive at the round just ended in Brunei, according to Professor Jane Kelsey who was present as a ‘stakeholder’ for the final few days.
Only the most problematic chapters met in Brunei. They included intellectual property (which discussed patents on medicines), state-owned enterprises, environment, investment and market access for goods, including agriculture.
Most other chapters are ‘closed’. That means the technical work is complete and ready for political deals on the controversial matters that remain unresolved.
‘Some countries report that little progress was made in Brunei. But that should not lull anyone into complacency’, Professor Kelsey warned.
‘While many negotiators were exhausted and some were incredulous about concluding their chapter by the end of the year, the politicians seem determined.’
‘To have any chance of pulling off an outcome, groups negotiating some chapters will have to meet every month between now and December.’
Detective work indicates that informal ‘inter-sessional’ meetings on six chapters* are scheduled within the next four weeks – all in North America.
‘“Inter-sessional” is a misnomer’, says Professor Kelsey, ‘because they are not planning any more formal sessions. There will be no access for the media or stakeholders to these smaller meetings.’
‘Past inter-sessionals have been shrouded in secrecy to ensure we can’t find out what’s happening and we don’t have access to those negotiators who see value in talking with us.’
‘The last three years of the TPPA have been widely condemned for their lack of transparency. The process is now going further underground’.
The chief negotiators will apparently meet in Washington DC from 22-24 September, with the US in the chair. They will report to their trade ministers who meet on the margins of APEC in Bali in early October.
The ministers are expected to begin the political horse-trading then. They will report, in turn, to their leaders who are in Bali on 6-7 October for APEC and immediately after that in Brunei for the ASEAN summit. Obama will apparently chair their meetings.
‘It remains to be seen what they can settle by December. The US is expected to table a new text on patents for medicines. There are rumours that this aims to divide and rule its opponents and could leave New Zealand out in the cold.’
‘But the biggest obstacle to a deal is the US-driven chapter on state-owned enterprises, where discussions on the text have barely begun. A new version that combines US and Australian proposals is beset with political, conceptual and technical problems. Almost no progress was made on it in Brunei.’
‘Finishing in December may mean the Obama administration has to give this chapter away’, Professor Kelsey speculated. ‘Yet the SOE chapter has been a centrepiece of their sales pitch to Congress on the TPPA. Without it, Congress may refuse to give the President “fast track” authority and retain their power to pick apart any final deal.’
‘There are still many twists and turns to go in these negotiations. The problem is that we will have even less chance to know what they are and what political deals are being made to eliminate them.’
These appear to be labour (especially on enforcement) in Ottawa; intellectual property (including patents for medicines) Mexico City; e-commerce (including privacy and data protection) San Francisco; investment (mainly schedules of exclusions), location unknown; technical barriers to trade(labelling and technical standards) Mexico City; legal issues (including medical pricing and tobacco) Washington DC.