[Ip-health] Former Malaysian IP Negotiator in HKS Newspaper: Can the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement Cripple Malaysia's Healthcare System?

Reshma Ramachandran reshmagar at gmail.com
Mon Feb 24 13:32:08 PST 2014


*"Therefore the NGOs should put on their thinking cap and take advantage of
this trade agreement for the betterment of our country."*

http://www.thehkscitizen.com/2014/02/24/can-the-trans-pacific-partnership-agreement-cripple-malaysias-healthcare-system/

Can the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement Cripple Malaysia's Healthcare
System?

By Unny Sankar

I was coming out from a pharmacy after buying fever and cough medicine for
my four year old son when I saw a poster by local Non-Governmental
Organizations (NGOs) on the wall. It read that the Malaysian healthcare
system was going to be shattered because the price of medicines was going
to escalate beyond affordability. The Malaysian NGOs insist that if
Malaysia signs the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), the price of
medicine will soar and cripple our healthcare system. In fact it was
reported in the local media that the NGOs were picketing right in front of
the hotel where the trade negotiation was taking place.

The NGOs oppose the TPPA because they believed the price of drugs will
skyrocket in and Malaysia will have less access to generic drugs. The NGOs
were well-meaning, but they are wrong. On the contrary, the TPPA trade pact
will increase the number of brand drugs in Malaysia as many developed
countries that produce brand drugs are part of TPPA. And the TPPA will have
no impact on the availability of generic drugs in Malaysia.

The TPPA is a free trade agreement between twelve member states comprising
developed and developing countries. Among the countries of interest to
Malaysia are United States, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Chile and
Singapore. The goal of this free trade agreement is to facilitate trade and
investments in addition to liberalizing the economies of the participating
countries. The negotiation were done secretively; none of the negotiated
chapters or texts of the free trade agreement are available in the public
domain.

The NGO's principle concern is access to affordable drugs. According to the
NGOs, prices will increase because of the adoption of stringent
intellectual property rights provisions akin to those of developed nations.
But in Malaysia, there are already thousands of generic drugs which are
considerably cheaper than brand drugs and the TPPA will have no impact on
the price and availability of generic drugs.

The NGOs also argue that trade negotiators are jeopardizing the healthcare
system by not examining carefully the intellectual property rights
provisions in TPPA. What the NGOs fail to acknowledge is that the Ministry
of Health Malaysia conducts its consultations with all stakeholders to
ensure that safeguards for domestic interests are in place. Therefore, any
new intellectual property rights provisions for medicines have been
scrutinized carefully to ensure access to affordable drugs. In addition to
that, the intellectual property rights provisions negotiated in TPPA are
only applicable to new medicines. When the patent protection is in effect
for newer medicines, the medicine will be expensive whether or not there is
a free trade agreement.

The patent protection term for all brand pharmaceutical products remains
for 20 years and there can be no amendments to extend it. As a result, once
an innovator drug has reached its 20th year of patent protection, generic
drugs are allowed to enter the market and the price will be half or even
lower than the original price. This environment creates a healthy
competition between brand and generic drugs which eventually lowers the
price of the brand drugs.

The Malaysian healthcare system relies heavily on generic medicines. The
more new medicine that enters the Malaysian market after signing the TPPA
the more varieties of generic medicines there will be once the patent
protection term expires.

Rather than fighting the TPPA, NGOs should work hand in hand with the
Malaysian pharmaceutical industry to capitalize on this ongoing free trade
agreement. And they should pressure the Government to provide long term
funds or grants for research and development in the field of
pharmaceuticals so that new drugs are created in Malaysia. In this way, we
will be able to create a clear path for research and development for
medicine in Malaysia.

Currently Malaysia is only producing generic drugs, so there are no
significant benefits to implementing stringent intellectual property
rights. Nevertheless, I am sure that one day Malaysia will benefit from the
stringent intellectual property rights provisions when brand drugs are
produced by local pharmaceutical companies. It will certainly show the
level of development we have achieved over the years. The TPPA is a win-win
deal for Malaysia. Therefore the NGOs should put on their thinking cap and
take advantage of this trade agreement for the betterment of our country.


-- 
Reshma Ramachandran
Harvard Kennedy School of Government '15
Warren Alpert School of Medicine at Brown University '15
PharmFree Chair, American Medical Student Association
 m: 786-271-1531





-- 
Reshma Ramachandran
Harvard Kennedy School of Government '15
Warren Alpert School of Medicine at Brown University '15
PharmFree Chair, American Medical Student Association
m: 786-271-1531



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