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TPP Trade Talks Reach Crucial Stage

Melinda St. Louis speaks against restriction of access to affordable medicines during a protest outside the hotel where the Trans-Pacific Partnership ministerial meetings are being held in Atlanta, Sept. 30, 2015.

Twelve nations are set to continue haggling over trade in cars, drugs and dairy products at a meeting of top trade officials in Atlanta this week. News reports say the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks are reaching a final stage after years of negotiations.

TPP supporters say the pact would increase trade and boost economic growth for participants, who make up 40 percent of the globe's economy. Critics of the TPP in the United States say it does too little to protect American jobs, the environment and the rights of union workers and will increase the costs of some drugs.

Some Canadian dairy interests are pressing to keep protections for their farmers, but those provisions annoy Canada's trading partners in New Zealand and the United States. Japanese and U.S. automakers are seeking good terms for their respective industries, and Washington wants to increase the length of time certain new drugs get patent protection.

Resolving these and other disputes is made more difficult by pending elections in several key nations, where presidential candidates and legislators who must approve any TPP deal will face voters, including some who fear that trade deals threaten their jobs.

U.S. participation in the TPP has always faced a tough road to approval by Congress, and analysts say the pending departure of House Speaker John Boehner, a strong trade supporter, is likely to make that task even more difficult.

The top TPP negotiators from the United States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam have been trying to work out final details for several days. Trade ministers from these Pacific nations are gathering in what TPP supporters hope will be a push to get a deal finalized by Thursday.