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THE future of Washington and the greater Pacific Northwest’s economy depends on our trade relationship with the Asia Pacific region. And so it is welcome news that the United States is working to finalize a major new trade agreement, called the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would significantly lower barriers for Washington businesses to expand trade with several Pacific Rim countries.

However, as negotiations reach a critical phase in the coming months, we need to ensure that the agreement protects our state’s biotech industry.

One of the terms up for negotiation is the length of “data-exclusivity” protection for biotechnology and biopharmaceutical drugs produced in the member countries. Data exclusivity allows inventors to protect their intellectual property for a preset period of time.,

Strong protection for proprietary data will help Washington and the Pacific Northwest’s biotech and pharmaceutical sector continue to generate breakthrough treatments and new economic opportunities.

The negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership started in 2009 and are expected to conclude by the end of this year. The agreement aims to streamline trade avenues among the participating countries, removing unnecessary tariffs and other barriers to commerce while also installing an updated regulatory framework suited to today’s economy.

President Obama has stated his goal for the agreement to be “the first 21st-century trade agreement.”

Participating countries include Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. Canada and Mexico were also recently invited to join the negotiations.

The Pacific Northwest’s highly advantageous geographical location gives us a leg up on transportation costs to Asia, and Washington businesses use this region as a base for a large portion of their global-supply chain.

Already, Washington’s two-way trade with the eight Trans-Pacific Partnership countries exceeds $8 billion. A smart, streamlined trade framework would be a huge boost to the Washington economy.

The data-exclusivity provision applies to the highly advanced class of medicines called “biologics,” drugs derived from living organisms. They are significantly more complex than traditional drugs, but that complexity also makes them more effective. Biologics have been developed to treat a wide range of devastating diseases, including Alzheimer’s, HIV/AIDs and various cancers.

Creating a biologic, though, is a hugely expensive undertaking. The average development process — from in-lab research to FDA-approved drug — costs more than $1 billion. While patent protections are supposed to safeguard those investments, this isn’t the case for biologics, which are too complex.

A broad body of research indicates that the appropriate length of time for data exclusivity is 12 years. A period of that length gives innovators a fair chance to recoup their investment costs and increases the chances that vital, lifesaving therapies will successfully reach the marketplace. It’s also U.S. law.

Of course, in addition to helping save the lives of millions of people worldwide, protecting life-science innovation is also good for Washington jobs. The life-sciences sector supports nearly 91,000 jobs here and is responsible for $10.4 billion in annual state economic output, making life sciences one of Washington’s largest and fastest-growing job sectors. A dip in biologic development would mean a huge dip in the Washington economy.

Washington’s federal representatives have played a key role in the effort to include 12 years of data exclusivity in the trade agreement. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, led a bipartisan group of senators in signing a letter to the president with this request, and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, and Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Auburn, have both been strong advocates for protecting our state’s life-science industry’s intellectual property. Gubernatorial candidate Jay Inslee was a staunch supporter of strong protection for intellectual property during his time in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Let’s hope these efforts are successful. Washington’s economy will benefit greatly from a Trans-Pacific Partnership that includes strong protections for life-enhancing and job-creating innovation.

Matt Morrison, left, is chief executive of the Pacific Northwest Economic Region and Chris Rivera is president of the Washington Biotechnology & Biomedical Association.