TPP to extend US drug monopolies to partner countries?

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TPP
TPP

Recently, excerpts were released by Wikileaks regarding the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a proposed international trade agreement leaked to that suggested the United States is pushing for changes that would restrict access to beneficial drugs overseas.

According to Wikileaks, the latest leaked chapter from May 2014 detailing proposed IP(intellectual property) rules indicates that American trade reps want to maintain a monopoly on life-saving drugs, as well as inhibit efforts by foreign nations to obtain such products simply and affordably.

Allegedly, a portion of the TPP chapter backed by the US, would “…force Parties to enact an automatic monopoly period (marketing exclusivity) for life-saving drugs, with a choice for the groups to decide for definitive inclusion within the treaty of 0, 5, 8 or 12 years…” according to the terms of the TPP.

In short, the monopoly on pharmaceuticals that could have potentially save lives in emerging economies would be subject to price controls by US companies. Moreover, the TPP includes terms that allow corporations to engage in legal actions against governments.

This raises the spectre of MNCs suing governments over unfavourable trade terms.

Implications

Analysts at Public Citizen, a consumer rights advocacy group based in Washington, DC raised concerns about the draft last week, stating “The text includes US-backed measures that would expand pharmaceutical monopoly power and compromise access to medicines in Pacific Rim countries. Deep resistance to these measures from many negotiating countries has endured for years. The US has dropped some harmful proposals, but continues to insist on many others.”

Its adoption could potentially undermine the cost savings touted in the TPP by the Obama administration. Providing longer monopolies to pharmaceutical firms that produce life-saving drugs also contradicts policies included in recent White House budgets.

While beneficial from a free trade perspective it its current form, current TPP terms allow negligible space for future changes. The current terms of the TPP also bar legislative bodies from reducing monopoly periods, and not without risking significant investor-state arbitration and other economic penalties.

Peter Maybarduk, the director of that group’s Global Access to Medicines Program, said in a statement that “The leak shows our government demanding rules that would lead to preventable suffering and death in Pacific Rim countries, while eliminating opportunities to ease financial hardship on American families and our health programs at home.”

12 nations are currently involved in negotiating the TPP – the US, Japan, Mexico, Canada, Australia, Malaysia, Chile, Singapore, Peru, Vietnam, New Zealand and Brunei. Representatives from these countries are scheduled to meet in late October in Australia for further discussion of the current TPP terms.

The TPP has been negotiated almost entirely in secrecy since the start of discussions. This has resulted in criticism about its lack of transparency, raising accusations of malicious corporate lobbying by US firms.

According to WikiLeaks, the group’s decision to publish a TPP excerpt last November may have forced some trade reps in the months since to reconsider certain aspects. Notably, issues surrounding digital rights have progressed little, with pro-industry additions to the domain of pharmaceuticals and patents.

Such terms are likely to affect access to important medicines, such as cancer drugs. It can also weaken the requirements needed to patent genes in plants, which will impact small farmers and boost the dominance of large agricultural corporations like Monsanto.

There is also greater support to remove a provision proposed by the US and Japan that requires granting of patents for new drugs which are slightly altered from a previous patented ones. This technique is called evergreening,  a tactic by the pharmaceutical industry to prolong market monopolies over specific drugs.