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Fran O'Sullivan: Welcome for NZ's new man in Washington

Groser will be an ally in getting TPP through Congress, says US trade leader.
Tim Groser has said he will steer clear of US domestic politics, but Mike Froman says the New Zealander will be able to help explain the TPP deal to Americans. Photos / Mark Mitchell (left), Bloomberg
Tim Groser has said he will steer clear of US domestic politics, but Mike Froman says the New Zealander will be able to help explain the TPP deal to Americans. Photos / Mark Mitchell (left), Bloomberg

United States Trade Representative Mike Froman has rolled out a welcome mat to newbie ambassador to the US, Tim Groser.

Groser - who played a key role in the lengthy Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations in his former job as New Zealand's Trade Minister - presented his credentials to Barack Obama in the Oval Office last week.

"Tim has of course been very central to this process from the start," says Froman. "He's enormously talented and experienced and knowledgeable about this.

"It's going to be great having him in Washington."

Groser has emphasised that he will steer a careful path, not getting involved in the hothouse of domestic politics on Capitol Hill. Says Froman: "Of course, once the negotiation is over we're all on the same side of the table working to help each other through Congress."

In a New Zealand exclusive interview this week, Froman said, "I think he [Groser] will be able to answer questions by members of Congress and by stakeholders. He's well known and respected in Washington and across the United States."

Selling the TPP to their domestic audiences is now the prime focus for the 12 trade ministers who signed the historic agreement in Auckland this week.

Obama wants the groundbreaking Asia-Pacific deal passed through Congress this year. But aspiring presidential candidates such as Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have clear reservations.

But put the presidential politicking to one side. The prime threat comes from Big Pharma, which has been assiduously lobbying key US political players to overturn the intellectual property protections within the TPP for biologics.

Under current US law, the pharmaceutical industry enjoys 12 years of exclusivity for biologic medicines (complex molecules built out of biological material).

Froman's message - which he repeated in a number of fora in Auckland this week - is that the agreement "is not for over-turning."

"We have an agreement and we're not going to reopen or renegotiate the agreement," he says.

We have an agreement and we're not going to reopen or renegotiate the agreement.

Froman explains that the TPP makes it clear the countries have committed to providing a period of market protection for biologics. "They can do so one of two ways. Eight years of data protection, or five years of data protection and other measures that deliver a comparable outcome."

In international trade circles that clause has been labelled a "fudge".

Separately, Australian Trade Minister Andrew Robb told the Herald Australia would not brook any changes to the IP measures.

Back to Froman: "As Minister Robb said in Atlanta, we will each get to the same outcome perhaps on different paths.

"That's our position as well - it can either be eight years or it can be five years of data protection and other measures."

Froman is confident that the US will ultimately ratify TPP. "We've made clear this is a very complicated agreement among 12 countries. It's different from other free trade agreements in that regard. Having said that, we'll continue to work with our stakeholders and members of Congress to try and address their issues either with the implementation or enforcement mechanisms."

One avenue the White House will promote to offset any major issues - such as potential job losses - is to use the federal Trade Adjustment Assistance programme. Froman notes this mechanism was renewed last year when the Congress voted the President Trade Promotion Authority so the White House could negotiate a deal.

"We will continue to work with stakeholders and members of Congress to address their issues."

A stronger sense of the strategic imperative that has been the driving force behind the TPP also emerged in Auckland this week, where several trade ministers talked about the driving need to revitalise the rules-based global trading system.

The World Trade Organisation's Doha Round - which was supposed to deliver a dividend to poor nations - ground to a halt more than a decade ago. But other significant shifts have also occurred as a result of technological change, globalisation (including the rise of global value chains) and the rise of the emerging economies.

It is clear the over-arching strategic aim for US trade policy has been to revitalise that order, both for the benefit of the US and arguably for the global system itself.

As Froman told the US Council of Foreign Relations late last year, "the TPP does that really in three major ways: first, by establishing rules of the road to ensure that tomorrow's global trading system is consistent with American values and American interests; secondly, by strengthening partnerships with our trading partners around the world, laying a foundation for pursuing broader mutual interests; and thirdly, by promoting inclusive development so that the benefits of global trade are both greater and more widely shared.

"And that helps - both by encouraging good governance, transparency, anti-corruption measures, sustainable growth, all of that can help contribute to the alleviation of poverty and hence the promotion of stability around the world."

- NZ Herald

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