[Ip-health] The Australian: MSF says put health ahead of profits in Asia-Pacific trade pact

Joanna Keenan-Siciliano joanna.l.keenan at gmail.com
Thu Mar 7 08:42:11 PST 2013

The Australian
Put health ahead of profits in Asia-Pacific trade pact
by: Kelly Nicholls
From: The Australian
March 06, 2013 12:00AM

THE US government is trying to slyly push restrictive intellectual property
protections through the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiation rounds that
are currently underway in Singapore.

If they succeed, this will be the most damaging trade agreement ever for
access to essential medicines in developing countries.

For the patients around the globe who organisations like Medecins Sans
Frontieres treat, this will have disastrous consequences. Too many people
are already dying needlessly because the medicines they need are too
expensive or they do not exist, and these aggressive proposals will only
cause further harm and keep prices far out of reach for millions.

Australia must demand that public health needs be prioritised over profit.
Failing to do so would make the Australian government complicit with US
proposals and their devastating outcomes.

The TPP agreement is likely to be one of the largest trade pacts ever,
encompassing 11 countries today and potentially open to all 21 Asia-Pacific
Economic Cooperation nations. Thailand is in the process of joining and
Japan and the Philippines are actively considering. Additional countries
will be allowed to join later - but probably without the ability to change
the text. The TPP has also been billed as a model for future trade
agreements across the globe and thus could set a dangerous precedent.

Negotiations have been held behind closed doors, but leaked documents
revealed that the US was pushing restrictive intellectual property and
investment provisions that would make it easier for companies to get
patents, keep them longer, while making it difficult for people to oppose
them. This is a dangerous principle that would push the price of medicine
out of reach for those most in need.

Negotiating countries, including Australia, initially rejected the US
government's intellectual property proposals. The US said it would take
into account these concerns and present a fresh proposal. However, they
have failed to do so and medicines have not been debated again, now for
over a year. With the rush to finalise the agreement by the end of the
year, access to medicines issues may be forced to be included in the final
agreement without substantive debate through a political decision. This
would be the worst possible outcome for public health as the US proposals
could enter unchanged

US proposals would require the further patenting of modifications of old
medicines, even in the absence of therapeutic benefits. They would also
require patenting of surgical, therapeutic and diagnostic methods which
could increase medical liability and the cost of medical practice and thus
reduce access to medical procedures. It would prohibit pre-grant opposition
to patents. This would make it much more difficult and costly for local
organisations to challenge patents and drugs protected by patents even if
the patents were invalid. It would also extend patents past the current
20-year norm and prohibit national drug regulatory authorities from
approving generic medicine until patents have expired. Finally it would
prevent drug safety regulators from using existing clinical data to give
market approval to generic or biosimilar drugs. These are all great wins
for big pharmaceutical companies. But they come at the cost of public

The TPP proposal also includes investor-state investment dispute provisions
that would allow corporations to file suit against national governments if
they perceived that a particular law negatively affected their investment
or anticipated profits. In the case of access to medicines, intellectual
property is explicitly mentioned as covered by the investment chapter and
therefore pharmaceutical firms could use TPP investor-state dispute
provisions to overturn national patent (and other IP) laws that may be
designed to protect public health. This is in fact already happening in
Canada, where Eli Lilly is threatening to sue the government of Canada
under similar rules included under NAFTA because Canada rejected a drug
patent considering it did not adequately meet the criteria for

In a country like Australia these concerns can appear abstract. But in the
places where Medecins Sans Frontieres works, lack of access to medicines is
a daily reality. It's tragic to see a person who has a deadly, yet curable
disease unable to afford treatment. In the majority of countries where we
work, people cannot afford insurance and are forced to pay for healthcare
out of their own pocket. Many of these people live off a minimum wage - if
they're lucky enough to have a job. Often they support large families. The
cure or treatment for their disease exists. But it is monopoly owned and
protected by patents and thus priced out of range for those most in need.
The reality is stark. Unless their situation changes, they will likely die.

That is the reality of the proposals that the US government is trying to
sneak through the back door. They will cost lives and many of them. The
Australian government is in a stronger negotiation position than many other
parties to the agreement, specially developing countries such as Vietnam,
Brunei, Peru and Thailand. Australia must stand up to the US government's
demands. But Australia should not just consider domestic interests, but act
as a champion for the developing countries who are party to the agreement.

Medicine is a matter of life and death. We must do everything we can do
protect and promote all people's access to life-saving medicine.

 - Kelly Nicholls is the Advocacy and Public Affairs Manager for Medecins
Sans Frontieres Australia.

Joanna Keenan
Press Officer
Médecins Sans Frontières - Access Campaign
E: joanna.keenan[at]geneva.msf.org
T: twitter.com/joanna_keenan


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