SINGAPORE -- As 11 nations scramble to seal an accord this year, intellectual property (IP) protection has emerged among hurdles to a U.S.-led Pacific free trade pact, negotiators said Wednesday.
Further talks are needed in areas such as IP rights and labor standards, officials from the Pacific Rim countries said after 10 days of talks on the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) which faces an October deadline.
"The negotiators made solid progress in bridging gaps in a number of areas," said Singapore's chief negotiator Ng Bee Kim, mentioning telecommunications and customs among the areas where the talks in the city-state made headway.
"There was a distinct sense that negotiations were shifting gears," she said at a news conference.
However the negotiators also said in a closing statement that there are a "range of more challenging areas such as intellectual property, environment, competition and labor (standards) which will require further deliberation".
Negotiators are discussing an "ambitious and comprehensive" package, the statement said.
Officials have said that the October deadline could be imperiled by several difficult issues, including a row between the multi-billion-dollar pharmaceutical industry and activists supporting access to cheap generic drugs.
Humanitarian group Medicins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) has asked negotiators from developing countries to reject what it said are patent provisions being pushed by Washington that would restrict access to generics.
IP protection is vital to industries that rely on innovation, Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, said in an article on Forbes magazine's website this week.
"US negotiators should ensure that strong IP protections are a necessary prerequisite to any TPP agreement," he said.
Movies, books, music, pharmaceuticals and computer software are among items that need to be protected from illegal copying, he added.
"Already, many Asia-based nations have made progress on strengthening the rights of intellectual property creators, but more work needs to be done," he said.
The 17th round of the talks will be held in Peru from May 15-24.
Apart from the U.S., the other TPP countries are Australia, Brunei, Chile, Canada, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. Japan has expressed interest in joining the talks.
The 11 current TPP members account for 30% of world gross domestic product, according to the think tank Pacific Economic Cooperation Council.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2013