ATLANTA -- Representatives from the 12 countries trying to finalize the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal have given themselves another 24 hours to make the trade pact happen, Japanese chief negotiator Akira Amari told reporters. As they continued last-minute efforts on Saturday morning in the U.S., the host country began sounding out Japan and other countries about extending the talks for another day.
And with only a couple remaining contentious issues, including how long drug patents should last, that is exactly what happened.
The negotiators, meeting here in the capital of the state of Georgia, had begun their fourth day of haggling hoping to conclude a deal in the afternoon.
Several ministerial-level meetings were likely to take place, with chief negotiators on hand to work out details before or after these ministerial sessions. The 12 countries had hoped to deliver the outcome at a joint press conference later in the day.
Up until Friday, trade negotiators were struggling with three issues -- drug patents, market access for dairy products and automobiles. Since then, representatives from relevant countries reached a broad agreement on tariff elimination rules regarding automobiles.
The countries have agreed to remove tariffs on car exports as long as the local-content ratio for materials used in auto parts and finished cars is somewhere between a little less and a little more than 50%. "We will conclude a deal in such a way that we can secure the interests of Japanese carmakers," a Japanese official involved in the negotiations said on Friday.
Meanwhile, New Zealand has significantly softened its stance on market access for dairy products. Up until now, the country had been calling for lower barriers for its dairy products. By Saturday, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key was saying the TPP would greatly benefit his country even if he couldn't gain more progress on the issue.
New Zealand had long gotten nowhere in negotiations with the U.S. on the issue. But observers expect New Zealand to offer a compromise and for the U.S. to eventually also make concessions.
The U.S., meanwhile, is arguing that a final TPP agreement include an eight-year patent protection period for drugs. This is the most contentious issue. Australia has stuck to its call for five years, and the parties involved are still working to find a compromise.
While negotiators from Australia and the U.S. were arguing their positions, a senior U.S. lawmaker -- any pact would have to be passed by the legislature of each country -- said an eight-year patent period is unacceptable. The remark is an example of how divisive the TPP is and an indicator that even if negotiators reach a deal, passage is far from certain.
The 12 countries are: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Mexico, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam and the U.S.