News media in the US and Canada are reporting signs of a deal coming together on access for dairy products into North America as trade ministers gather in Atlanta, Georgia, for the latest round of talks attempting to conclude the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade and investment pact.
The Atlanta talks are being billed as potentially the final round of talks, although New Zealand Trade Minister Tim Groser has yet to commit to attend them, despite being in the US this week for climate change talks in New York.
He said almost a week ago that there was still no adequate offer from the key TPP dairy-producing countries - the US, Canada and Japan. Market access for dairy products and automobiles, and patent extensions for new generation bio-logic pharmaceuticals, are reportedly the only remaining sticking points of substance between the 12 countries negotiating the new Pacific Rim agreement, which US president Barack Obama is committed to concluding as part of a strategy to assert US geopolitical interests in Asia and counter the rise of China.
Reports over the weekend suggest that the US and Canada are both preparing to move on their highly protected markets, despite protests from the dairy sector in both countries and silence on the prospect of improved access to the Japanese dairy market.
Reports in the Toronto Star, the iPolitics Canadian political website, and the Inside US Trade newsletter all point to the US signalling willingness to open its dairy market to some extent for imports from New Zealand and Australia.
The IUST daily newsletter of September 25 quotes the US National Milk Producers Federation and Dairy Export Council as expressing alarm that dairy market access proposals have been developed by US officials since talks broke down in Maui in late July, without sufficiently consulting the US industry and which potentially open the US market to Canadian imports without a reciprocal ability for US dairy producers to enter the Canadian market.
"Tariff elimination on key products without reciprocal treatment by Canada would seriously undermine the US dairy economy," the two organisations said in a joint statement.
A report in the Toronto Star of September 26 quoted the Canadian international trade minister, Ed Fast, as saying reports that Canada would open its dairy market to US imports were "absolutely false." CBC News had reported that Canadian negotiators were preparing to open up "a significant share" of Canada's domestic dairy market, including fluid milk, butter, cheese, yoghurt and milk powders. Fast was also reportedly heading to Atlanta for the TPP talks, saying Canada could not stay away from the negotiating table.
Dairy Farmers of Canada spokesman Isabelle Bouchard, however, appeared to accept that concessions may be prised out of Canada to allow TPP to be concluded.
The iPolitics site reported her as saying that if there were concessions granted, the "phase-in period" would be "very important".
The moves come as legal action commences in the High Court in Wellington this morning to attempt to force the New Zealand government to release copies of the negotiating texts for the TPP, which long-time free trade critic and advocate for more transparency in trade negotiations, Auckland University law professor Jane Kelsey, is leading with a variety of non-government organisations that also seek greater access to the detail of trade deal proposals.
The case would set precedents by seeking "definitive interpretation of certain provisions of the Official Information Act" for the first time, said Kelsey in a statement.