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‘Significant Progress’ in Pacific Trade Talks, U.S. Says

Negotiators for nine nations working towards a Pacific-region trade pact made “significant progress” in areas including customs, telecommunications, cross-border services and government procurement, a U.S. official said as the latest round of talks ended.

Participants in the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks will now seek approval from their governments in these areas, Carol Guthrie, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Trade Representative’s office, said today on a conference call from San Diego, where discussions began July 2.

U.S. officials have proposed language to bolster copyright protections in the proposed accord, which is a top trade priority for President Barack Obama’s administration.

“Discussions have begun among the nine TPP partners on that language,” according to Guthrie.

The negotiations enter a new phase later this year when Mexico and Canada are set to join. The U.S. Trade Representative’s office this week notified Congress of its intention to include Mexico and Canada, triggering 90 days of consultations before the group expands.

Nations that join the talks must adhere to any agreements already established by the participants: Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the U.S. and Vietnam. Adding Mexico and Canada would make the region the U.S.’ largest export market, with more than $20.5 trillion in economic output, according to an estimate by Canada’s government.

Copyright Balance

The U.S. in San Diego proposed creating what the trade representative’s office has described as “balance” in the copyright systems among the negotiating partners. It will allow for exceptions and limits for items including criticism, news gathering and academic research.

“These principles are critical aspects of the U.S. copyright system, and appear in both our law and jurisprudence,” according to a blog entry posted July 3 on the agency’s website.

Copyright protection is no longer about ensuring that authors are justly compensated for their work, according Jeffrey Schott, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington. The process is also being used to recoup investment on patented goods including pharmaceuticals, he said.

“The standard procedure for U.S. negotiators is to try to get our trading partners to adopt U.S. standards,” he said in a phone interview.

Other Issues

The Trans-Pacific Partnership discussions deal with other issues, including agriculture, financial services, rules of origin and protections for companies that compete with state-owned enterprises. At discussions held near Dallas in early May, negotiators completed an agreement to boost trade for small-and medium-sized businesses.

Democrats have said the discussions need to be more open to public and congressional scrutiny.

“We are troubled that important policy decisions are being made without full input from Congress,” 132 lawmakers led by Representatives Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut and George Miller of California, said in a June 27 letter to U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk. Senators including Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, have voiced similar concerns.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, a California Republican from the San Diego area, sought to attend the discussions, a rare request from a lawmaker. USTR granted him access only to the public portions of the event, not the negotiations, and he didn’t attend, Jeffrey Solsby, a committee spokesman, said in an e-mail.

Congressional Complaints

The Obama administration “should be courting Congress,” including Issa, according to Susan Ariel Aaronson, a professor of trade policy at George Washington University in Washington.

While it’s important to inform members of Congress, disclosing too much information “would make negotiation of any sort quite difficult,” Ed Gresser, a policy adviser at USTR during President Bill Clinton’s administration, said in an interview.

During negotiations, countries often propose their ideal goals and then find common ground with trading partners. Negotiations conducted through the media may make it hard for countries to back down from those positions, Gresser said.

The next round of negotiations will be held in Leesburg, Virginia, from Sept. 6-15.

The U.S. is “seeking to make as much progress as possible this year” on the discussions,’’ Guthrie said.

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