An open letter to the sixteen governments negotiating the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)

95 health, community and development organisations in the Asia Pacific region call on trade ministers to reject provisions that would negatively affect access to generic medicines in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership agreement

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is a free trade agreement (FTA) currently under negotiation between the ten member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) (Brunei, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam) and countries with existing FTAs with ASEAN which includes Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.

The RCEP includes an intellectual property (IP) chapter with measures that threaten access to life saving essential medicines. Even though it does not include the United States, many of provisions appear to have been borrowed from the US-Korea free trade agreement and the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement. In April 2016, a leaked IP chapter (dated October 2015) verified that South Korea and Japan were pushing for data exclusivity, a measure that could delay regulatory approval for medicines that are off patent, and provisions that will lengthen medicine patent monopoly periods. This will only serve to delay the market entry of affordable generic medicines and goes well beyond the intellectual property protections required by the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).

This chapter is of particular concern as India’s IP laws attempt to strike a fair balance between the rights of the patent holders and the need to provide affordable medicines to its citizens and people in the developing world. India is the world’s largest producer of generic medicines and supplies more than 80% of generic anti-retro viral (ARV) medicine to treat HIV in low and middle income (LMIC) countries. Its generic medicine industry has reduced the cost of ARV medicines over time by up to 98%, vastly increasingly access to medicines for those most in need. If India is forced to sign onto TRIPS plus measures, access to affordable generics of new essential medicines for a number of diseases for the world’s poorest people in Sub Saharan Africa and other low and middle income countries will be seriously compromised. For example Malaysia provides Indian generic ARVs free of charge to their HIV positive population. It is highly unlikely that Malaysia could afford to sustain their HIV treatment program if they are unable to access Indian generics. RCEP also includes several LMIC that have large populations and economic pressures to ensure affordable access to medicines, such as Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, China and Vietnam. Least developed country (LDC) members Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar are struggling to provide affordable access to medicines and have an extension in the WTO on pharmaceutical IP protection until 2033 (and are eligible to extend this period for as long as they are LDCs).

UNAIDS reports that only a third of the people in the Asia and Pacific region who need HIV treatment currently have access. If RCEP countries agree to elevated IP protection in RCEP, this figure could likely increase.

There is no justification for an intellectual property chapter in regional trade agreements such as the RCEP. We call on all negotiating governments to reject all TRIPS plus measures in the RCEP. In particular we call upon wealthier countries such as South Korea, Japan, Australia and New Zealand to resist pressing for IP provisions that threaten access to medicines for the world’s poor.

Signatory civil society organisations

MSF Access Campaign Global
International Grail Global Justice Network Global
People’s Health Movement Global
Public Services International – Oceania Regional
Asia Pacific Research Network Regional
Public Health Association of Australia Australia
MSF Doctors Without Borders Australia Australia
Australian Health Promotion Association Australia
Caritas Australia Australia
Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network Australia
Community and Public Sector Union/SPSF Australia
NSW Nurses and Midwives Association Australia
Finance Sector Union of Australia Australia
Missionaries of the Sacred Heart Justice and
Peace Centre Australia
Pax Christi Australia Australia
Edmund Rice Centre Australia
Catholic Religious Australia Australia
Grail Australia Global Justice Network Australia
N.S.W Retired Teachers’ Association Australia
Institute of the Sisters of Mercy Australia Australia
Conference of Leaders of Religious Institutes
in NSW Australia
Textile Clothing & Footwear Union of Australia Australia
Combined Pensioners & Superannuants
Association Australia
Retired Unionists Network Australia
Sutherland Shire Environment Centre Australia
Sisters of St Joseph Australia
De La Salle Brothers Australia
SS Peter & Paul Catholic Parish Social
Justice Group Australia
Bandanh Chatomok National MSM and TG network Cambodia
Cambodian People living with HIV Network- Takeo Cambodia
Cambodian Health Committee Cambodia
Southeast Asia Development Program (SADP) Cambodia
Committee to Promote Women in Politics Cambodia
Social Action for Change Cambodia
SILAKA Cambodia
Women’s Network for Unity Cambodia
CamASEAN Youth’s Future Cambodia
Gender and Development for Cambodia Cambodia
Worker’s Information Center Cambodia
The Messenger Band Cambodia
Women’s Network for Unity Cambodia
Khmer HIV/AIDS NGO Alliance Cambodia
Rainbow Community Kampuchea Cambodia
ARV Users Association Cambodia
KORSANG Cambodia
National Coalition of PLHIV in India – NCPI+ India
The Delhi Network of Positive people India
National Coalition of People living with HIV in India India
UPNPplus India
MGNP+ India
Maharajganj Positive Network India
Maharaja DLN India
Network of Maharashtra by People Living With
Indonesia AIDS Coalition Indonesia
la via campesina indonesia Indonesia
Pacific Asia Resource Center (PARC) Japan
Third World Network Malaysia
Malaysian AIDS Council Malaysia
Malaysian Council for Tobacco Control (MCTC) Malaysia
Pertubuhan Islah Movement Malaysia
Positive Malaysian Treatment Access &
Advocacy Group (MTAAG+) Malaysia
Consumers Association of Penang Malaysia
Sahabat Alam Malaysia (Friends of the Earth
Malaysia) Malaysia
Cooperative Committee of Trade Union Myanmar
Mana Movement New Zealand
The Mana Party New Zealand
New Zealand Nurses Organisation New Zealand
Public Health Association of Australia New Zealand
IBON Foundation Philippines
Social Watch Philippines Philippines
People’s Health Movement Philippines Philippines
Knowledge Commune South Korea
IPLEFT South Korea
CHSC (Center for Health and Social Change) South Korea
KFHR (Koean Federation of Medical Action Groups
for Health rights) South Korea
People’s Health Movement KOREA South Korea
Korean pharmacists for democracy society South Korea
People’s Health Institute South Korea
Solidarity for HIV/AIDS Human Rights-NANURI+ South Korea
Trade Commission of MINBYUN-Lawyers for a
Democratic Society South Korea
Thai AIDS Treatment Action Group (TTAG) Thailand
Thai Network of People living with HIV/AIDS (TNP+) Thailand
Alternative Agriculture Network (AAN) Thailand
Renal Failure Patient Group Thailand
AIDS ACCESS Foundation Thailand
Foundation for AIDS Rights Thailand
Foundation for Consumers Thailand
Rural Pharmacy Association Thailand
Drug Study Group Thailand
BioThai Foundation Thailand
Ecological Alert and Recovery – Thailand (EARTH) Thailand
Thai Holistic Health Foundation Thailand
FTA Watch Thailand
Foundation for Women Thailand
Vietnam Network of People living with HIV Vietnam

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