Akira Amari, minister in charge of the negotiations under the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade talks, has made it clear he thinks New Zealand was the key major stumbling block to a successful conclusion of the trade deal.
After ministers failed to reach broad agreement in their meeting in Hawaii, Amari told reporters that a “certain country” was asking too much and urged the country to cool down, apparently targeting New Zealand which repeatedly pressed its demands for more dairy exports until the very end.
As a matter of fact, Canada was the biggest matter of concern among negotiators before the ministerial meeting, as the administration of Prime Minister Stephen Harper had been slow in moving bilateral negotiations forward. It would have been difficult for Canada to discuss liberalization of its dairy and poultry markets heavily protected by supply management measures, particularly ahead of the October election, over fear of losing farmers’ support. Japan and the United States, which are eager to strike a deal, had even suggested wrapping up the talks without Canada.
However, in the ministerial sessions, Canada became serious about concluding the talks, proposing certain concessions, according to negotiation sources. Instead, New Zealand emerged as a key concern, strongly urging Japan, the U.S., Canada and Mexico to open their dairy markets.
“We thought we managed to remove a rock which could be seen in high tide, and now we see a new one in low tide,” a negotiation source said.
On Tuesday, July 28, the first day of the ministerial meeting, Amari held bilateral talks with New Zealand Trade Minister Tim Groser, but the atmosphere “was even worse than when the relations between Amari and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman were at their worst,” said a Japanese government source. According to the source, New Zealand “continued to demand that Japan open its dairy market by ten times more than it can accept.” Even after the negotiations were moved back to working-level discussions, Japanese negotiators were so frustrated with New Zealand’s attitude that they refused to make a comment to reporters.
New Zealand tried to bargain its demands on dairy exports with another sticking point that blocked the deal, which was the issue of how long to protect data used to develop biologic drugs. New Zealand, which depends largely on more affordable generic drugs, wants to shorten the data exclusivity period along with Australia and developing nations, while the U.S. has been pushing other member nations to extend the period in an apparent effort to benefit its biologic drug makers. In negotiating harshly with the U.S., New Zealand has maintained that it would not concede on the issue of drug patents unless more access to dairy markets is secured.
After all, ministers of the TPP member nations failed to negotiate to settle the talks, as they could not compromise with New Zealand’s unrealistic demands on opening dairy markets, nor find a common ground on data protection of biologic drugs. “The undergrowth has been cleared away in the course of this meeting in a manner that I would say is streets ahead of any of the other ministerial meetings that we have had,” Groser said at a press conference after the ministerial meeting. “You can see clearly that there are one or two really hard issues, and one of them is dairy.”
(Aug. 3, 2015)