Spotlight on: Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)

Photograph by Siddharth Singh
Civil society demonstration against IP provisions in RCEP that can block access to affordable medicines during the 6th round of negotiations. 3rd December 2014

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade agreement includes provisions that threaten access to medicines

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade agreement is being negotiated in secret, without input from public health stakeholders. A leaked draft of the negotiating text has revealed some proposed provisions that could undermine access to price-lowering, generic medicines, and thus, life-saving treatment to millions of people in the developing world.

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.

The leaked draft of RCEP’s negotiating text on intellectual property (IP) and investment reveals proposals that apply to pharmaceutical products, which could affect access to affordable medicines and biomedical innovation across the Asia Pacific region. 

1st July 2019 update: 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.

As a medical humanitarian organisation working in nearly 70 countries, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is concerned that proposed provisions in the intellectual property and investment chapters could potentially restrict a government’s capacity to initiate and execute policies to protect public health and ensure affordable access to medicines for all, in particular in developing countries where most of MSF’s operations are based.