[Ip-health] FT: Jeremy Corbyn claims dossier shows NHS at risk from US trade deal

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Wed Nov 27 13:52:49 PST 2019


UK general election
Jeremy Corbyn claims dossier shows NHS at risk from US trade deal
Tories dismiss Labour assertion while experts point to key issue of drug

NHS staff fear the US government wants the UK to pay more for American

James Blitz, Jim Pickard and Sarah Neville in London

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn claimed on Wednesday that leaked UK government
documents prove the National Health Service will be “on the table” and “up
for sale” if Boris Johnson concludes a post-Brexit trade deal with the US.

In a dramatic attempt to inject momentum into his party’s election
campaign, the Labour leader unveiled a 451-page “dossier” containing
details of talks between UK and US trade officials over the past two years.

Mr Corbyn told an audience in London that the documents disproved the prime
minister’s repeated claim that the NHS would not be part of future trade
talks with Washington.

“The uncensored documents leave Boris Johnson’s denials in absolute
tatters,” he said. “He tried to cover it up in a secret agenda and today it
has been exposed.”

But while the memos reveal the Trump administration’s ambition to do a deal
that affects drug pricing and food standards in the UK, trade experts said
they contained no clear statement by the British side that it was prepared
to agree.

“The US clearly wants to discuss issues that are particularly controversial
such as drug pricing,” said Sam Lowe, a trade specialist at the Centre for
European Reform, a think-tank. “But the UK is not yet prepared to concede
on these issues.”


The documents amount to a detailed report by the Department for
International Trade into six rounds of talks involving US and UK officials
in Washington and London between July 2017 and July 2019.

They cover a wide range of issues including drug pricing, food standards
and climate change

The talks were preparatory meetings ahead of formal negotiations that can
only start once Britain has formally left the EU.

On a visit to the UK in June, US president Donald Trump suggested that the
NHS was not something he would want to be part of a trade negotiation. But
in several documents, UK officials suggest this is not the real US
position. After one set of meetings, they say there was a “substantial
discussion on drug patents and the NHS,” adding: “The US were testing our
system and eager to push their positions.”

On another occasion, US officials make clear that there would be
consequences if the UK end up being too closely aligned to the EU in a
future trade pact.

“The US trade representative was clear that there would be all to play for
in a no-deal situation,” the official record of one meeting states, “but UK
commitment to the customs union and single market would make a UK-US FTA
[Free Trade Agreement] a non-starter”.

Perhaps the closest the documents come to a smoking gun is an
acknowledgment that future negotiations would have an impact on the NHS’s
ability to use generic drugs that are cheaper than patented equivalents.

NHS staff fear the US government wants the UK to pay more for American
drugs. Currently, the UK can block American drugs not deemed to be “value
for money” and allow cheaper — generic and biosimilar — alternatives to be
prescribed, a system that saves the NHS hundreds of millions of pounds each

However, in one document a UK negotiator suggests the US will demand the UK
recognise longer patents for US drugs: “The impact of some patent issues
raised on NHS access to generic drugs (i.e. cheaper drugs) will be a key
consideration going forward.”

Biosimilar drugs — copycat versions of biologic drugs — have a higher
penetration in the UK than elsewhere in Europe, and much higher than in the
US where the dense web of patent protections makes it harder to launch them.

David Henig, a former DIT official, said the UK was not giving ground to
the US in these documents. “But, at some point, something is going to have
to give. The UK will choose to exclude the NHS from a future trade deal
because it is too politically sensitive. But that puts pressure on food
standards which is the other big ask from the Americans.”

The pharmaceutical chapters of US trade agreements are often among the most
contentious, as Washington’s negotiators press for countries to adopt their
12-year data exclusivity periodsfor the most innovative medicines.

Additional reporting by James Politi in Washington

Thiru Balasubramaniam
Geneva Representative
Knowledge Ecology International
41 22 791 6727
thiru at keionline.org

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