A dispute between Australia and the US over patent protections for pharmaceuticals is holding up the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Negotiations between the 12 countries in the US city of Atlanta have been extended for an extra day, as the US seeks to increase the length of time patents for new biologic drugs are protected.
The move is being resisted by Australia and Japan.
Speaking from Atlanta, Trade Minister Andrew Robb said the dispute could make or break the agreement, but believed a deal could still be reached.
“It has got the potential to disrupt. We have found a bit of an impasse for several days, there’s been many hours [of talks], in fact, last night we went all night,” he said.
“We are trying to do our best and act in good faith.”
Australia is standing firm on setting a five-year limit on data exclusivity for creators of advanced medicines such as biologic drugs, while the US is pushing for a limit of eight years.
Mr Robb said the negotiations had been difficult but that he was confident of finding a way forward.
We’re right at the pointy end. The most difficult political issues for the many parties remain difficult.Andrew Robb, Trade Minister
“You know, just splitting it down the middle is not the answer, and we’ve had to try to work through that,” he said.
“If we don’t, it will have a major impact on whether we conclude or not. But I think we are starting to find a way forward, so I’m always the optimist.”
Mr Robb has confirmed the issue was discussed in a phone call between US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Friday night.
Other countries at the negotiating table have also expressed concern over the issue, with Japan’s economic minister Akira Amari warning it could be the “last chance” of getting a deal.
The United States had originally called for a limit of 12 years but has since watered down the proposal.
It is claimed any extension of the limit could increase the cost of the health portfolio to the federal budget.
Separately, there remains a dispute over access for dairy and sugar producers, although it is unclear whether those issues will also be resolved when the talks conclude on Sunday (local time).
“In many respects a lot of other issues have been somewhat held on hold while we seek to resolve this impasse over the biologic drugs,” Mr Robb said.
He claimed in some ways it was a typical negotiation process.
“We’re right at the pointy end. The most difficult political issues for the many parties remain difficult,” he said.
“It’s not an easy process but it is the way it goes, and the other negotiations have been concluded, so I’m confident we can get there with this one.”