[A2k] FT: Obama should take tough line on trade talks, says lawmaker (Senator Hatch)

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Tue Dec 3 12:19:40 PST 2013



December 3, 2013 6:59 pm

Obama should take tough line on trade talks, says lawmaker

By James Politi in Washington

The US should consider dropping countries from Trans Pacific Partnership
trade talks if they fail to accept its demands on patent protections for
drugs and unrestricted cross-border data flows, a senior Republican senator
has warned.

Orrin Hatch, a veteran lawmaker from Utah and the top Republican on the
Senate finance committee, sent a letter to Michael Froman, the US trade
the Obama administration to hold firm on tough intellectual property
provisions in the negotiations, which are entering their final stage.

Mr Hatch said he was “increasingly concerned” that some of the 12 countries
in the negotiations – spanning Asia, Latin America and North America – may
not be willing to “undertake the high level of ambition to conclude a
high-standard agreement” and urged Mr Froman to only “move forward” with
the countries that were on board.

“It is possible – and preferable – to conclude a strong agreement, rather
than allowing a small number of countries to weaken the agreement for all,”
Mr Hatch said.

Mr Hatch has long insisted that the US should push for 12 years of patent
protection for biologic drugs, a position supported by pharmaceutical
manufacturers but opposed by groups such as Médecins Sans
say it would restrict access to affordable medicine around the world.
He also wants the elimination of restrictions on cross-border data flows, a
priority for big technology and financial services companies that has
become increasingly sensitive in the wake of the US National Security
Agency spying revelations. Mr Hatch’s support will be crucial in securing
approval for any TPP deal in Congress.

Last week, the Obama administration released a
blog<http://www.ustr.gov/about-us/press-office/blog/2013>in which it
said the US position on drug patent protections in trade
negotiations was to stick to existing law, which has 12 years of
exclusivity for biologic drugs. But it also acknowledged that there are
different opinions within the TPP on what the duration of patent protection
should be and said these were “some of the toughest items to negotiate”.
The US also said it was seeking a “differential approach” in which certain
developing countries that are part of the TPP talks might have more
flexibility on intellectual property protections and insisted it was trying
to strike an appropriate balance. “The US is working to do something new
and important when it comes to medicines in the TPP region: striking the
right balance to make life-saving medicine more widely available while
creating incentives for the development of new treatments and cures,” it

The warning from Mr Hatch comes as TPP nations – which include Japan,
Vietnam, Malaysia, Australia and Chile among others – are preparing for a
key round of talks in Singapore beginning on Saturday. Their goal has been
to conclude a deal by the end of the year though it is far from certain
that it will be achieved. Last month, chief negotiators held a session in
Salt Lake City claiming “significant progress” across a broad range of

Mr Hatch’s letter is the latest sign of US political unease over the deal
in the final stretch of the talks. It reflects some worry among business
groups that the Obama administration might be rushing to conclude a deal
even if imperfect from their point of view. But US officials have said the
terms of the agreement were more important than the timing and suggested a
final deal could slide until next year if necessary.

Mr Hatch said there was already some precedent for dropping countries from
trade talks, citing the case of negotiations with Andean countries a decade
ago that yielded agreements with Peru and Colombia, but not Bolivia and

Mr Hatch and Max Baucus, the Democratic chairman of the Senate finance
committee, have been working on a bill to grant the Obama administration
“fast track” authority to pass trade legislation, including the TPP deal,
through Congress swiftly and without amendments. People close to the matter
have said they are close to unveiling a bill.

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