Call comes as comments of US President illustrate disconnect with actions of US negotiators
New York/Singapore, 19 May 2014 — As ministers from 12 countries gather in Singapore this week for Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade negotiations, international medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) urges countries to prioritise efforts to fix the serious threats to access to medicines in the draft agreement.
The call comes in the wake of US President Barack Obama’s tour of Asian countries last month, where he acknowledged “we’ve got to find a way to make sure that [medicines are] available to folks who simply can’t afford it as part of our common humanity.” But US trade negotiators have in fact taken a hard line in the opposite direction, abandoning previous commitments by the US government that allow developing countries to retain safeguards in their national laws to respond to public health needs, including affordable medicines.
“It’s pretty simple; the TPP as it stands is a bad deal for access to medicines”, said Judit Rius Sanjuan, US Manager and Legal Policy Adviser for MSF’s Access Campaign. “At a time when countries are grappling with skyrocketing healthcare costs, it’s outrageous that the provisions in the TPP would increase the cost of medicines even further, leaving millions without affordable access.”
Problematic intellectual property rules that would block or delay access to affordable generic versions of medicines – including “data exclusivity” for biologic medicines and weaker patentability criteria – remain in the draft negotiating text. By insisting on these provisions, US trade negotiators are abandoning the hard-fought ‘May 10 agreement’ that permanently exempted less prosperous countries from some of the most harmful provisions and was supposed to hold true for all future trade agreements.
“The USTR is reneging on a prior US commitment on access to medicines for developing countries even as President Obama has pledged that the TPP should make medicines affordable and available”, said Rius Sanjuan. “With no clear end to the negotiations in sight, countries must take a stand and remove provisions that will harm access to medicines; the damaging clauses in question could literally mean the difference between life and death for people who can’t afford high-priced medicines.”
The US-proposed time-limited exemptions for a few of the poorest countries – where some provisions wouldn’t be implemented until a certain date or conditions are met – are a feeble attempt to distract from the fact that the vast majority of TPP countries will be forced to implement the provisions immediately, including increasingly cash-strapped middle-income countries who can ill-afford to lock in high prices for medicines. “If the US proposal is accepted, the poorest countries would be forced to limit access to affordable medicines long before their public health needs are under control,” said Rius Sanjuan. “The fact remains that no country, rich or poor, should accept limitations on its sovereign ability to ensure medicine is accessible and affordable for all those who need it.”
Adding to strong opposition from dozens of members of US Congress, Nobel award-winning economists and a range of civil society and patient groups in many TPP countries, UNITAID—a global health initiative hosted by the World Health Organization (WHO) that supports access to medicines and diagnostics—recently heavily criticised the proposed TPP agreement for restricting developing countries’ ability to ensure that trade priorities don’t impede on public health.