[Ip-health] Financial Times: Drug groups set for TPP trade clash

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Mon Jul 22 01:59:40 PDT 2013


July 21, 2013 1:06 pm

Drug groups set for TPP trade clash

By James Politi in Washington

Drug companies and development groups have clashed over intellectual
property provisions in trans-Pacific trade talks, as the US pushes to
expand patent protections but is facing resistance from emerging economies
worried about losing access to cheap medicine.

The issue of drug patents is emerging as one of the biggest sticking points
in the so-called Trans Pacific Partnership
<http://www.ustr.gov/tpp>negotiations, which are seeking to lower
trade barriers across 12 Pacific
Rim nations – from the US and Canada to Vietnam and Chile. The latest round
of talks<http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/754fcf02-ef7c-11e2-8229-00144feabdc0.html>is
under way in Malaysia and will be dominated this week by Japan’s
belated entry into the
The goal is to reach an agreement by the end of the year, but there are
still several large obstacles, including the scope of patent protections
for pharmaceuticals.

Last week Doctors without
the international charity, released an open letter to TPP countries
expressing “serious concern” about what could emerge in a deal. “[It]
threatens to restrict access to affordable medicines for millions of
people, especially in low and middle-income countries. Unless certain
damaging provisions are removed, the TPP has the potential to become the
most harmful pact ever for access to medicines,” the group said, adding
that it was also worried the deal could become a “global standard with
worldwide damaging repercussions”.

Meanwhile, PhRMA<http://phrma.org/phrmapedia/conversations/protect-strengthen-IP-rights>,
the biggest lobby group for drug companies in Washington, takes the
opposite view. “Strong intellectual property protections in the TPP to
bolster biopharmaceutical innovation will help ensure that unmet patient
needs are addressed,” it said.

PhRMA – which represents large global companies such as Pfizer, Amgen and
GlaxoSmithKline – wants the US to use TPP negotiations to bring IP
standards up to American levels, including at least 12 years of protection
for biologies. It argues that intellectual property protections are not a
barrier to access, compared with the much bigger problem of scarce
infrastructure in doctors and hospitals. It also says strong patent
protections offer an “incentive” for investments in areas such as drug
delivery systems suited to conditions of high humidity and temperatures.

The row comes as the protection of intellectual property becomes an
increasingly important trade matter for the US. As US business groups have
increasingly tried to penetrate emerging markets such as China and India,
they have complained more and more about IP theft, making it one of the
most high-profile areas of trade tensions between these countries.

The US tried to bridge the gap in the pharmaceutical debate two years ago
with a plan that sought to establish a “TPP access window”, which would
give greater legal certainty for generic manufacturers, and reduce customs
obstacles and duties on medicines. But other TPP countries rebuffed the
plan, with the poorest such as Vietnam seen to be most adversely affected.
This issue is under discussion in Malaysia but the US has not submitted a
revised offer.

Supporters of tough intellectual property provisions in the US are urging
Barack Obama’s trade negotiators to hold firm. “We hope the Obama
administration doesn’t dismiss the importance of this and makes it one of
our key priorities – innovation is the fabric of our economy and it should
really be at the top of the list,” said a Republican aide in the US Senate.

The aide added that tougher IP protections would help stop counterfeit
drugs from proliferating. “IP protection is not just about making sure that
people are remunerated for their creative capital, it’s also about making
sure customers are getting what they paid for – that’s a real problem in
some of these economies, there’s a lot of black market products,” the aide
said. “It’s another source of revenue for folks who are really not
concerned about public health, they are really more concerned about earning
money, whether through knock off purses or knock-off pharmaceuticals.”

But Kim Elliott, a senior fellow at the Center for Global
a Washington think-tank, says that a uniform standard for IP protection was
“not appropriate” for all levels of development. “If you don’t have
innovative activity to protect then it’s basically a transfer to richer
countries that have that IP activity,” Ms Elliott said.

“The whole intent of the provisions the US is pushing is to delay the
introduction of generics to have stronger patent protection and you would
expect all of that to lead to higher drug prices,” she added. The US may
also find itself at odds with some developed countries in the talks, such
as Canada, that have broader latitude in negotiating drug prices with
pharmaceutical companies, Ms Elliott said.

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