Source: MSF Access
Trading Away Health
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal is currently being negotiated between the US and eleven other Pacific Rim nations: Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. The agreement is slated to further expand its membership, potentially to all 21 Asia Pacific APEC nations.
The negotiations, which began in 2010, are being conducted in secret, without the opportunity for public scrutiny. However, leaked drafts of the United States government’s proposals for some sections of the agreement reveal the inclusion of dangerous provisions that would dismantle public health safeguards enshrined in international law and restrict access to affordable generic medicines for millions of people in developing countries.
In the field of health, generic competition saves lives. As a medical treatment provider, MSF relies on affordable generic medicines to treat a wide variety of diseases, including tuberculosis, malaria, HIV/AIDS and other infections that afflict the poorest and most vulnerable populations. And we are not alone in this – the major treatment initiatives, including the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the US government’s PEPFAR programme and many others depend heavily on affordable generics.
But the TPP is threatening to cut off the lifeline that generic drugs provide for people living with HIV/AIDS and many other diseases. The availability of generic medicines in a particular country depends on a complex structure of national rules and regulations governing patents and other intellectual property rights. Trade pacts and other international agreements can impact these domestic regulations, and governments have long recognized the need to balance public health interests with intellectual property (IP) demands when negotiating trade agreements. In fact, multiple multilateral commitments have reaffirmed the importance of this balance, including the 2001 WTO Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health and the 2008 WHO Global Strategy and Plan of Action on Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property.
However, despite these commitments, the US government is pushing policies in the TPP that represent the most far-reaching attempt to date to impose aggressive IP standards in a trade agreement with developing countries – policies that further tip the balance towards strong IP regimes favoring commercial interests and away from public health.
For pharmaceuticals and other health commodities, stronger IP regimes mean extended patent monopolies and delayed generic competition, and that translates into higher prices for people who need medicines. In developing countries, where people rarely have health insurance and must pay for medicines out of pocket, high prices keep lifesaving medicines out of reach and are often a matter of life and death.
Billed as a model agreement not just for countries in the Asia-Pacific region, but the world over, the TPP is on track to set a damaging precedent with serious implications for many developing countries where MSF works, and beyond. Governments have a responsibility to ensure that public health interests are not trampled by commercial interests, and must resist pressures to erode hard-fought legal safeguards for public health that represent a lifeline for people in developing countries. MSF urges the U.S. government to withdraw—and all other TPP negotiating governments to reject—provisions that will harm access to medicines.