New Delhi/Melbourne, 1 July 2019 - Negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) free-trade agreement have reached a crucial stage as representatives from 16 countries gather in Melbourne, Australia this week with an aim to close the deal by the end of this year. The newly formed governments of Malaysia, Indonesia and India have a particularly strong mandate to conclude negotiations in 2019.
If concluded, RCEP would be the world’s largest trading bloc – home to nearly 50 per cent of the global population, including some of the world’s most poor and marginalised people that suffer and die needlessly in absence of affordable access to medicines.
Initiated in 2012, parties to the negotiations include 10 ASEAN countries (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam) and trading partners Australia, China, India, Japan, Korea and New Zealand.
Over the last five years, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has warned that intellectual property (IP) provisions proposed in the negotiations could have a detrimental impact on the availability of price-lowering generic medicines, of which India is a major supplier. The medical humanitarian organisation has called on negotiators to prioritise people’s health by removing and rejecting harmful IP rules that will put millions of lives at risk.
Negotiating countries have confirmed with MSF representatives the withdrawal of two provisions relating to medicines – patent term extensions and data exclusivity – that would put the timely entry of generic competition at risk.
However, a range of damaging IP enforcement provisions proposed by Japan remain on the negotiating table. These provisions go beyond the requirements of the WTO Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) Agreement and are similar to those included in the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), a controversial, pluri-lateral treaty abandoned by the European Union thanks to intense public and political scrutiny.
Response from Leena Menghaney, Head - South Asia, MSF Access Campaign:
“While we welcome the recent withdrawal of harmful provisions from the IP chapter of RCEP, namely patent term extensions and data exclusivity, Japan’s strong push for elevated IP enforcement measures continues to be a matter of grave concern. These measures would delay generic competition and translate into higher prices for longer periods, keeping affordable, generic lifesaving medicines away from millions of people who desperately need them.
As the negotiations reach the final stages, MSF appeals to all RCEP countries to withdraw the damaging provisions that could cut off the global supply of lifesaving generic medicines.”