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Governments in Trans-Pacific trade deal urged to reject political trade-offs harmful to access to medicines

On sidelines of APEC Summit, US may propose differential treatment for some countries, which still blocks access to medicines for millions

New York/Bali, Indonesia, 3 October 2013 — As Asia-Pacific leaders prepare to meet in Bali for the APEC Summit, where the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement trade deal will be high on the agenda, the international medical humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) urged governments not to make political trade-offs during trade negotiations that will harm access to affordable medicines for millions of people.

“So many millions of lives have been saved because of the availability of affordable generic medicines, but we could watch this important progress unravel as leaders trade away health in the TPP negotiations,” said Dr. Manica Balasegaram, Executive Director of MSF’s Access Campaign. “We can’t let the lives of millions of people get entangled in the political hard bargaining as the US government pushes for the negotiations on this trade deal to wrap up.”

The United States’ proposals in the TPP negotiations involve the most egregious intellectual property provisions ever seen in a proposed trade deal with both developed and developing countries. They cover multiple avenues for multinational pharmaceutical companies to lengthen their monopolies by extending patents on medicines through a common pharmaceutical industry practice known as ‘evergreening.’ This keeps medicine prices high for longer by blocking competition from generics.

The negotiations have entered a critical stage, where governments are being urged to close the deal before the end of the year. After months of facing opposition to their initial proposal, the US government may now be proposing differential treatment on the intellectual property chapter, whereby several of the poorest countries in the negotiations have a temporary and limited exemption from some of the provisions. However, this would still leave these countries with intellectual property provisions that far exceed what is required under international trade rules, which themselves are already choking off the supply of affordable medicines in developing countries. Furthermore, millions of poor people in other TPP countries will be left with unaffordable prices for the medicines they need.

“Nobody should be fooled by this latest US proposal, which purports to lessen the negative impact this trade deal will have on access to medicines in the poorest countries in the negotiations,” said Judit Rius, manager of MSF’s Access Campaign in the US. “This is still a terrible deal that will continue to delay the entry of affordable generic medicines that MSF and millions of people rely on.”

In addition, pharmaceutical companies are lobbying for the US government to demand twelve years of so-called ‘data exclusivity’ on biologic drugs in the TPP negotiations, which will further delay the entry of more affordable versions of these medicines.

“If the US were serious about protecting innovation and access to medicines in this agreement, it would not propose stricter levels of intellectual property protection”, said Rius. “Stricter intellectual property rules limit innovation by creating monopolies that restrict innovative companies and researchers from developing new or adapted medical tools. Instead, it encourages some pharmaceutical companies to focus their business on extending monopolies on existing medicines, rather than developing new medicines that could truly respond to the health needs of people.”

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Page updated: 3 October 2013
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