[Ip-health] Shooting itself in the foot: the broken promises of the U.S. trade agenda

Joanna Keenan-Siciliano joanna.l.keenan at gmail.com
Thu Sep 15 01:07:35 PDT 2011

Tido von Schoen-Angerer, Executive Director of MSF's Access to Essential
Medicines Campaign, has published a blog post on the TPP negotiations.
Please feel free to post comments on the site and disseminate widely!


*Shooting Itself In the Foot: The Broken Promises of the U.S. Trade Agenda *

As United States trade representatives thrash out an international trade
deal in Chicago, truly ominous developments are unfolding behind the scenes.

Leaked drafts of the U.S. position show that the government is pushing
provisions to tighten intellectual property laws that will make
price-busting generic competition impossible. In short, the U.S. is pushing
to severely restrict access to affordable medicines where they are needed
most - in the developing world.

The U.S. is negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement with
Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and
Vietnam. But the significance of the deal reaches beyond those countries. It
will be used as the basis for future agreements between the U.S. and other
developing and developed countries.

In the field of health, competition saves lives. Monopolies backed up by
patents keep the price of medicines out of reach for longer. Because generic
manufacturers were free to make cheaper versions of AIDS drugs, the price of
HIV treatment has fallen by more than 99 percent over the last ten years --
from over U$10,000 for one year's treatment in 2000 to as low as $60 today.

This is why I am alarmed by the U.S. pursuing measures that would strangle
the production of generic medicines, and force the price of new drugs to
remain high.

The leaked papers reveal a number of U.S. objectives: to make it impossible
to challenge a patent before it is granted; to lower the bar required to get
a patent (so that even drugs that are merely new forms of existing
medicines, and don't show a therapeutic improvement, can be protected by
monopolies); and to push for new forms of intellectual property enforcement
that give customs officials excessive powers to impound generic medicines
suspected of breaching IP.

And there's more.

The U.S. will also reportedly introduce measures to make it harder and more
expensive for generic drugs to get regulatory approval, and to lengthen
patent monopolies for pharmaceutical firms so that they keep generics out
and prop up drug prices for longer. All of these measures are known to hit
the availability of affordable medicines in developing countries hard.

This deal is set to be sealed behind closed doors. Under no obligation to
make its negotiating texts public, the U.S. Trade Representative's office
has instead published a white paper claiming their TPP proposals will remove
barriers to access to medicines. The document not only fails to provide the
technical details necessary for effective public scrutiny, but also
expresses a fundamentally flawed premise that speeding up market entrance of
brand-name, monopoly-priced drugs will, in itself, solve the challenge of
access to affordable, quality medicines. The truth is that the U.S. position
outlined in its leaked TPP proposal actually creates barriers to access and
thwarts generic competition.
With this devastating agenda, the U.S. is back-pedalling on the promises
made to the developing world.

In 2007, President George W. Bush committed to abide by key public health
safeguards in future free trade deals in a bipartisan agreement with
Congress, called the New Trade Policy. This policy, which is expressly not
mentioned in the USTR white paper, obligates the U.S. to refrain from
pushing countries to adopt many of the very same measures it is now
promoting as a part of the TPP.

Most worryingly, though, is that the U.S. trade representatives' stance is
not only a backflip on previous commitments to ensure public health
safeguards - the U.S. is also shooting itself in the foot.

In June, I attended the United Nations High Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS in New
York. There I witnessed the U.S., plus the other UN Member States, commit to
'15 by 15': scaling up to a total of 15 million people on HIV treatment by

The U.S. is by far the greatest funder of global HIV programs. It poured in
54 percent of all donor government disbursements in 2010, committing $5.5
billion. The U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR -
another Bush policy) relies principally on the purchase of generic
antiretroviral medicines. The U.S. is also the biggest contributor to the
Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, another global health
player that relies heavily on generics - as indeed does Doctors Without

If an extra six million people need to be put on HIV treatment over the next
four years, then we need to find solutions to rein in drug prices and keep
treatment affordable. We need to find ways of getting as much bang from
PEPFAR and the Global Fund bucks as possible.

And yet the U.S. is trying to club up with countries in a deal that keeps
the cost of medicines high. Again, the fear is that whatever ends up in this
free trade deal ends up as the basis for all future agreements with other

As the negotiators gather in Chicago to hammer out their trade deal, are
they paving the way for the '15 by 15' pledge to be another broken promise?


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