Groser 'not taking Pharmac off the table' in free trade talks with US

The government isn't going to negotiate New Zealand's public health system in any trade negotiation, Trade Minister Tim Groser said today - but with a qualifier over the Crown's drug-buying agency, which is being targeted by big pharma in the US.

The government isn't going to negotiate New Zealand's public health system in any trade negotiation, Trade Minister Tim Groser said yesterday. He added, "But I am not 'taking Pharmac off the table'."

The future of Pharmac, the Government's drug buying agency, is an issue in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade negotiations and the powerful United States drug lobby is pressing for increased access to the New Zealand market.

It has the backing of 28 senators who have written to President Barack Obama.

Mr Groser said today he could not say, in highly specific terms, what was on the table in the TPP negotiations but he could be unequivocal on a fundamental issue.

"We are not about to negotiate our public health system in any trade negotiation," he said in a speech to the Institute of International Affairs in Wellington.

"We are not about to adopt a health system, via a trade negotiation, that allocates resources according to capacity to pay."

Mr Groser said Pharmac was part of a sophisticated system which operated in the public sector, and it was a very good part.

"But I am not `taking Pharmac off the table'," he said.

"No professional negotiator of any quality `takes issues off the table' at an early stage.

"We will sit with US negotiators and listen to their concerns. All I am prepared to say in public is that we will listen and respond accordingly."

Labour and the Greens say leaving Pharmac alone must be a bottom line, and Prime Minister John Key has described it as a "hugely successful" agency.

Mr Key said last month he wouldn't set any bottom lines and would leave negotiators to do their job.

The TPP is a multilateral free trade agreement that aims to integrate the economies of the Asia-Pacific region.

The original TPP, which came into force in 2006 and still exists, is between Brunei, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore.

Five additional countries -- Australia, Malaysia, Peru, the US and Vietnam -- are negotiating to join it.

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