Hyderabad, 21 July 21 2017 — As negotiators for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade agreement meet for another round of negotiations in Hyderabad next week, networks of people living with HIV/AIDS from different parts of the country, public health experts from the region and Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) will mobilise in the city to demand the removal of damaging rules proposed in the trade deal that threaten to undermine access to affordable medicines for millions of people worldwide.
Two countries – Japan and South Korea – are expected to continue pushing India and the ten member states of ASEAN to agree to intellectual property (IP) provisions that expand and introduce new monopolies for pharmaceutical corporations, undermining generic competition that is critical for lowering medicine prices and ensuring access to affordable medicines for procurers, treatment providers and patients.
“Millions of people globally are counting on India to continue to stand firm and resist dangerous provisions that represent a matter of life and death for those in need of treatment,” said Loon Gangte, International Treatment Preparedness Coalition – South Asia. “India has been through this before with the EU-India trade agreement where similarly harmful provisions undermining access to medicines were either withdrawn or dropped. The country needs to stand firm again.”
Among the proposed harmful measures, Japan and South Korea are pushing for rules that could allow multinational pharmaceutical corporations to sue RCEP governments for millions of dollars when they take steps to lower the price of medicines. These rules could also extend patent monopolies beyond even the current mandatory 20 years, and also force the sale of generic medicines to be stopped based on mere accusations of patent infringement – even if these accusations are unwarranted. Taken together, these provisions represent an aggressive push to lengthen and expand multinational pharmaceutical monopolies, which will restrict and delay price-lowering generic competition for longer periods of time. This, in turn, will result in high prices for the medicines people need to survive.
“We rely on affordable medicines made in India to treat people in our medical programmes in more than 60 countries around the world, who are living with diseases such as HIV, tuberculosis and hepatitis C,” said Leena Menghaney, South Asia Head for MSF’s Access Campaign. “We are standing up now like we have before when we see a threat to our source of affordable medicines, because we simply cannot afford to stand by idly. We urge India to resist any pressure to accept provisions that could cut the future life-line of needed drugs for millions of people the world over.”
MSF and the other public health experts also expressed deep concern that Japan and South Korea are demanding ‘data exclusivity’ in the negotiations, which would block other manufacturers from the market for at least five years by restricting regulatory approval that is needed to prescribe or procure generic medicines.
This back-door route for drug corporations to get a monopoly for medicines that are already off patent represents a serious threat to people’s ability to afford the treatment they need to stay alive and healthy. Many countries that have accepted excessive monopolies on pharmaceuticals are now grappling with the consequences of unaffordable medicine prices. For example, in the United States, prices of patented cancer medicines have almost doubled from a decade ago, averaging from US$5,000-10,000 per month, while a new hepatitis C drug was introduced at the price of $1,000 per pill.
“India has been an important source of affordable generic medicines, including drugs to treat cancer,” said James Love, board member of the Union for Affordable Cancer Treatment. “The domestic industry in India has the capacity to make many drugs, and there are aspects of the India patent law that make it harder for pharmaceutical corporations to repeatedly extend patent terms by patenting different aspects of the same medicine. India’s law also has safeguards, which can be used to obtain compulsory licenses for domestic use and to export generic products to other countries. We are concerned by several of the proposals in the RCEP negotiation that would require changes in India’s laws, and cut off access to life-saving drugs.”
Since 2012, the RCEP trade agreement has been under negotiation between the ten members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) members (Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam) and the six countries that have existing trade agreements with ASEAN: Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and the Republic of Korea. Notably, the RCEP countries are home to nearly 50% of the world’s population, which include some of the most impoverished and marginalised communities.
To know more about harmful provisions in RCEP that impact access to medicines, read more here