Negotiations on Pacific trade deal head into the weekend

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Talks aimed at finalizing a trade deal between the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim countries have been extended into Saturday, reports said.

US Trade Representative Michael Froman and his counterparts working on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) have been meeting since Wednesday in the US city of Atlanta.

Neither Froman nor his office has yet issued an update on the progress of the talks, which are being held behind closed doors.

US President Barack Obama spoke by phone with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of Australia, primarily to discuss the trade negotiations, the White House said.

“The two leaders reaffirmed their commitment to concluding TPP soon,” the statement said.

Among the reported sticking points are rules of origin for the automotive industry, dairy market access and the monopoly period for biological drugs.

There also are questions over the power that US tobacco companies could gain to block other countries’ anti-smoking regulations, according to the Washington Post.

The previous session of talks on creating the mega trade zone ended two months ago without agreement, dealing a setback to Obama’s trade agenda.

The US-led initiative, which Obama hopes to make a signature achievements, would encompass more than one-third of global international trade and help to tilt the economic balance of power in the region away from China.

Pacific Rim countries involved in the talks are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.

The US and European Union are negotiating a seperate trade deal – the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – which would create the world’s largest free trade zone.

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